Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

For Easter, I went to Catholic mass with my Mom and step-Dad last night, and I went to my Presbyterian church this morning.  I am not sure what to get out of these services as someone who is not entirely sure what he believes.  I will say, though, that I enjoyed the music at the Catholic service last night—-both the powerful Catholic songs, and also the evangelical (as far as I know) song, “As the Deer.”

This morning’s service was interesting.  The Pastor Emeritus’ grandkids were there, and they livened up the children’s part of the service with their comments.  It was like an episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” (remember that show?).  The pastor’s sermon was all right.  It reminded me of how death is an inevitability, and that is why people desire an afterlife.  I am a fairly young man, so I have not yet experienced seeing my parents, siblings, cousins, and peers dying around me.  My grandparents are still alive.  Death seems to me to be a long way off, but it will someday be a reality to me.  I can somewhat understand why there are people who celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as a sign that death is defeated and there will be an afterlife.  I do not think that one has to have a conservative Christian perspective to believe in an afterlife, however, for there are other afterlife beliefs out there: ghosts, reincarnation, etc.

During the prayer part of the service, someone expressed concern about atheists’ attacks on Christians.  She said that there are more Christians than atheists, yet atheists somehow manage to wage their attacks.  The pastor responded in agreement, saying that there is a creationist radio program that he likes to listen to, and an atheist web site is responding to that program with “inaccurate things about creation” (my pastor’s words, according to my memory).  The pastor prayed that Christians might be able to drown out the atheists’ voices with the message that Christ lives.

I had a hard time identifying with any of this.  It is not because I like atheist trolls—-I don’t, and I will not publish their comments here (as I will not publish comments from fundamentalist Christian trolls).  But I can identify with atheist arguments.  I think that they have the upper hand on the creation/evolution debate.  On the Bible, however, I find them to be a mixed bag.  They make a decent case that the Bible is not inerrant and perfect, and they also raise interesting questions and notice a lot of weird details that few others notice or mention.  But a good number of them believe that Jesus did not exist, contrary to what the vast majority of biblical scholars say, and these atheists are such know-it-alls about it.

In any case, I think that a better approach is to listen to people’s cases, not to drown them out with louder, zealous voices.

I rarely pray that people might change their beliefs.  I used to do that as a conservative Christian, but I don’t anymore.  One reason is that I cannot picture a lot of people I know changing their beliefs.  For example, I cannot picture my Mom becoming a conservative Christian.  I cannot picture my Dad voting.  They are who they are.  They hold their ideas for the reasons that they do.  They’ve held the same ideas for years.

But I can picture certain people becoming open to change, given the right settings.  My impression is that my pastor does not read too many books—-he does research for his sermons and uses the Internet and commentaries, but he said to me that he does not read many books, whereas his wife does.  But he does interact with other pastors (some of whom are rather liberal) and is close friends with an academic who has written books about theology.  My pastor participates in interfaith dialogue.  If I were to tell him why I tend to agree with atheists rather than fundamentalists on evolution and the Bible’s errancy, I am not sure if he would be that receptive.  My communication skills are not always the best, and I can easily come across as a bitter village atheist with an ax to grind about religion.  But if my pastor were to discuss these questions with people who are thoughtful and gentle, and who have managed to keep their faith and live lives of spirituality amidst the challenges and ambiguities, that would make a world of difference, I think.

Anyway, those are my musings for the day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Write-Up: Lone Star Trail, by Darlene Franklin

Darlene Franklin.  Lone Star Trail.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

Lone Star Trail is part of the Texas Trails series, also known as the Morgan Family Series.  This series focuses on the Morgan family in nineteenth century Texas.  The books are connected with each other, yet each of them can be read alone, without knowledge of the other books.  Lone Star Trail is about Jud Morgan.  Jud’s brother Calder was the father of Raleigh, who is one of the main characters in Vickie McDonough’s Long Trail Home.

In Lone Star Trail, Jud Morgan is upset because German immigrants are settling in Texas.  Their language and customs are different from his own, and he believes that they are trying to fashion Texas in their own image.  Due to a series of events, a German family, the Fleischers, ends up staying with the Morgans, and Jud is somewhat attracted to Wande, who is part of that German family.  As far as I could see, Jud in the book never has a dramatic epiphany in which he concludes that his prejudice is wrong, nor was there a part of the book in which Jud accepted Christ and make a dramatic turnaround in his life.  Jud was already a Christian, trying to live according to Christian ethics yet often finding himself getting in the way.  Jud’s prejudice was lessened as he spent time with the Fleischers and saw that they were people like him, and that they were hard-working and had integrity.  Moreover, the romance between Jud and Wande was very low-key, and the ending of the book was not particularly rosy but highlighted that “The Morgan family would face the future—-together” (page 284).  All of these were reasons that I loved this book.

The book has loveable characters (except for Tom Cotton, and there were times when I liked even him).  In addition, the church is not prejudiced and welcomes outsiders, as the church should do.  If I have a favorite part of the book, it is Jud’s proposal to Wande: “I’m not perfect, and I can’t promise I’ll always say the right thing or do the right thing.  But I can promise you that I will always love you…with all my heart” (page 281).

Excellent book!

I Chronicles 6

I have two items for my blog post today about I Chronicles 6.

1.  The note on v 8 in the HarperCollins Study Bible states that the high priest Zadok “is made a descendant of Aaron by identifying his father as Ahitub (the grandfather of Abiathar, another high priest at the time of David…).”

This confused me.  I was aware of the scholarly view that Zadok was a Jebusite who became a high priest under David and Solomon, and the Chronicler tied Zadok to the line of Aaron out of the conviction that only sons of Aaron could be high priests.  But I was unaware that the Chronicler was saying that Zadok’s father was the grandfather of Abiathar, the other high priest during David’s reign, whom the Zadokites would fully supplant after Abiathar sided with Adonijah rather than Solomon for the monarchy of Israel (I Kings 2).  My impression was that Zadok and Abiathar were descended from different sons of Aaron, not that they had the common descendant of Ahitub.  Zadok was descended from Aaron’s son, Eleazar whereas Abiathar was descended from Aaron’s son Ithamar (I Chronicles 24:3).  Granted, this does create some bumps in the Bible.  You have God promising Eleazar’s son Phinehas an everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13), and Phinehas is the prominent priest in Joshua and Judges.  Yet, you also have God saying that he appointed the father of Eli, who descends from Ithamar, to be priest back when Israel was in Egypt (I Samuel 2:28).  Abiathar was descended from Eli, and so, when Abiathar lost the high priesthood, that fulfilled the prophecy that the house of Eli would lose the high priesthood on account of the sins of Eli’s sons (I Kings 2:27).  So which son of Aaron did God originally prefer for the high priesthood over Israel: Eleazar or Ithamar?  It seems to me that one perspective in the Bible said Eleazar, whereas another perspective said Ithamar.  I suppose that one can harmonize, if one wishes: it was never promised that Phinehas would be high priest, and the father of Eli in I Samuel 2:28 could be Levi (from whom Aaron and all of the Levites descended), not Ithamar specifically.  But I think that there is good reason to believe that there are two perspectives in the Hebrew Bible about whom God originally chose to be high priest.

I disagree with the note on I Chronicles 6:8 in the HarperCollins Study Bible, for I do not think that the Ahitub who was the father of Zadok was supposed to be the same Ahitub who was the grandfather of Abiathar.  There is no indication in I Chronicles 6 that such was the case, for Abiathar is not mentioned there.  Rather, I believe that the father of Zadok and the grandfather of Abiathar were two different Ahitubs.  Why not?  The same names pop up more than once in I Chronicle’s genealogy, so two people could have had the same name!

2.  In I Chronicles 6, Elkanah the father of Samuel is said to descend from the tribe of Levi, whereas I Samuel 1:1 depicts Elkanah as an Eprathite who lived in Ephraim.  I think that I have read some commentators who have suggested that the Chronicler ties Samuel to the Levites because he did not think that a non-Levite could do the priestly sorts of things that Samuel did in I Samuel.  I am not entirely convinced by that, though.  Samuel in I Chronicles 6 does not descend from Aaron, the only family from whom high priests could come, according to P.  Actually, Samuel descends from Korah, the Levite who launched a revolt against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16!  (Korah’s father in I Chronicles 6 has a different name from what he has in the Pentateuch, but there is enough overlap between Korah’s genealogy in I Chronicles 6 and his genealogy in Exodus 6:24, that they are probably the same Korah.)

The note on I Samuel 1:1 in the HarperCollins Study Bible states that Samuel is given a Levitical Kohathite ancestry in I Chronicles 6 because that would entitle Samuel to perform the responsibilities that he does in I Samuel 2-3, specifically surrounding the Ark of the Covenant.  Maybe, but does that entitle Samuel to offer the sacrifices that he does?  Was that right not restricted to Aaronides, according to P and the Chronicler?  I did a search, and there are passages in I Chronicles in which only Aaronides sacrifice whereas the other Levites do grunt work, help with the slaughter, or perform other responsibilities (i.e, carrying, music), whereas there are other passages in which Levites minister to God, which presumably includes sacrificing.  I wrote a post about that here.  Perhaps the Chronicler is making Samuel a Levite to make his priestly work acceptable, though I think that he would have done so more effectively had he made Samuel an Aaronide.  Or maybe the Chronicler was not trying to address how Samuel could do priestly things.  I read in Roddy Braun’s Word Biblical Commentary on I Chronicles that the Chronicler may have noticed that Exodus 6:24 mentions an Elkanah who was the son of Korah, and so he decided to attach Elkanah the father of Samuel to Korah’s line.  You may notice all those Elkanah’s in I Chronicles 6!

Another note: Elkanah, the father of Samuel, lived in Ephraim.  According to I Chronicles 6:66, there were Kohathites—-the Levitical family with which I Chronicles 6 associates Elkanah the father of Samuel—-who lived in Ephraim.  Maybe the Chronicler is trying to explain how Elkanah could be a Levite yet live in Ephraim, or perhaps Elkanah really was a Levite who lived in Ephraim, but I Samuel, for some reason, did not tell us that Elkanah was a Levite.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Crossroads; I Am Gabriel; Long Walk to Freedom

I watched three movies recently: Crossroads, I Am Gabriel, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  The first and the third are not explicitly Christian movies, whereas the second one is.

1.  Crossroads: A Story of Forgiveness.

Crossroads is said to be a Christian movie on some web sites, but actually it is a 2007 Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie, which is based on a true story.  In this movie, Dean Cain plays a construction worker named Bruce Murakami, whose wife and adopted daughter die in an automobile accident when a car races into their vehicle.  There are conflicting eyewitness reports about what happened, and the police are blaming Bruce’s wife.  Bruce wants to see justice for his family, so he hires a cynical defense attorney, Erin (played by Peri Gilpin from Frasier).  After great reluctance, Erin helps Bruce to investigate.  They learn that the accident occurred because someone was racing his car.

Justin, a teenager, was the guilty racer, and he faces becoming a convicted felon and spending thirty years of his life in jail.  Bruce initially wants for Justin to get the maximum punishment, but then he decides to meet with Justin, and Justin reminds him of his own son.  Bruce and Justin agree to speak at high schools about the accident to warn high school students not to race, since that can hurt somebody.  Bruce’s younger son is initially upset that his mother and little sister are being used in some educational presentation, but he changes his mind after he carelessly rides his bike out of the driveway without looking and is hit by a van.  Bruce decides to reduce the charges and to keep Justin from being labeled a felon, and Bruce and Justin continue to speak at high schools.

This is a decent movie about bringing good out of bad.  That does not make the bad any less bad, by any means, but it is a constructive way to move forward, both for the victims and also the person who caused the accident.  The victims are dealing with pain at their loss, and the person who caused the accident is dealing with feelings of guilt that he can never completely atone for.  Bruce forgave Justin, but in a manner that entailed restoration and making a positive difference in the world.

2.  I Am Gabriel.

I Am Gabriel is a 2012 Christian movie.  In this movie, a town becomes depressed after a woman loses her baby, along with her ability to have children.  Rain is scarce, and the economy is sluggish.  In the midst of this, a boy named Gabe comes into the town carrying a prayer mat and solemn proclamations.  Gabe encourages people to pray and reminds them of God’s love.  He knows people’s stories.  He is a conduit through which God brings rain, heals a girl of her near-blindness, and raises a lady from the dead.  The town experiences revival, as things get better and people pray on prayer mats.

The doctor, played by John Schneider, senses from the outset that Gabe was sent by God.  The sheriff, played by Dean Cain, is skeptical, and he does not believe in God on account of the death of his wife.  When the sheriff confronts Gabe in front of the local church’s congregation, Gabe exhorts him not to let his own anger blind him to what God is doing.  Gabe then reveals himself to be the angel Gabriel.

I pretty much agree with the average rating for this movie on the Internet Movie Database: five out of ten stars.  It was not a good movie, though it’s chilling, solemn music managed to stay with me after I was done watching it.  The movie is thought-provoking, however, because it confronts me with the questions of what keeps me from joining what God is doing, and if I can even change myself so as to participate in God’s alleged work.

By the way, Dean Cain has appeared in more than one Christian movie, and I have wondered what his own spiritual beliefs are.  In an interview with Beliefnet, he states the following, as he discusses a movie he was in, The Way Home, in which a community comes together and prays.  He explores different beliefs about God’s activity in the world and says that he prays and tries to follow the Golden Rule, even though he is not part of any organized religion.

3.  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

This is a 2013 movie about the life of Nelson Mandela.  It goes from his youth, through his imprisonment, to his release from prison and his efforts to rebuild South Africa.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the movie was his relationship with his wife, Winnie, who was a leader in the struggle against Apartheid while Nelson was in prison.  In the end, she chose violent revolution, whereas Nelson chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the two parted ways.  While I have long tended to demonize Winnie, I could sympathize with her more as I watched this movie, even though I admire Nelson’s approach much more.  She was a regular person who was propelled to political activism through her own suffering and the suffering of her husband.  This is a good movie, and the soundtrack made it even better.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Billy: The Early Years

I watched Billy: The Early Years, which was a 2008 movie about the early years of renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

The character in the movie who tells the story about Billy Graham’s early years is Charles Templeton, whose older self is played by Martin Landau.  I knew the name “Charles Templeton” on account of a documentary that I saw a while back that was hosted by Christian apologist Lee Strobel, who interviewed him.  Essentially, Templeton was a Christian evangelist and close friend to Billy Graham, but he lost his Christian faith.  I was hoping that Billy: The Early Years would get into that topic, since I am interested in the stories of people who gain, lose, or change their beliefs about religion.

Templeton is an old man on his hospital bed, and he is being interviewed by a reporter, who is played by Lindsay Wagner.  Templeton vacillates between rants and charming coherence, and I did not understand why exactly the movie was portraying him in that way, for he came across as low-key and reasonable on the Lee Strobel documentary that I watched.  Was the movie suggesting that Templeton went off the deep end or opened himself up to demons because he left the Christian faith?  The thing is, while the movie portrayed him as rather arrogant about his preaching abilities and in-your-face with his unbelief, it did not depict him as one who left Christianity due to a moral or spiritual flaw that he personally had, as a number of Christians see those who leave the faith.  Rather, in the movie, Templeton’s reasons for leaving Christianity were intellectual, and maybe even understandable: he wondered how a good God could permit the Holocaust, he found biblical stories (Jonah and the sun standing still in the time of Joshua) to be unscientific and hard to believe, he thought that the Bible contained lacunae and contradictions, he speculated that the biblical authors were regular people trying to find answers in life, he acknowledged other beliefs out there besides Christianity, and he felt that Christianity was too simplistic in light of an increasingly complex world.  In the movie, Billy publicly praises Templeton for his integrity in resigning the ministry rather than preaching a faith that he did not accept.

Templeton goes back to Billy’s youth, when Billy was working on his father’s dairy farm.  Billy’s parents were religious, but Billy was not.  When a traveling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, was coming to town for a revival, Billy mocks him as just another preacher wanting to fleece the flock.  But Billy’s father encourages him to go hear the preacher for himself rather than basing his opinions on what others tell him.  So Billy goes to the revival, and Dr. Ham starts to preach directly at Billy.  He says that Billy has an emptiness in his life that girls and fancy cars cannot fill.  He says that there are times when Billy’s heart is full of love, but other times when his heart is dark.  The evangelist says that Billy, and everyone else, is a sinner who needs Jesus.  Billy wonders how the evangelist knew all those things about him, and he accepts Christ.

Billy goes to Bible colleges, but he is not exactly a resounding success.  He is not that good of a preacher, and he is told that explicitly.  He is bumbling and socially awkward, especially around the ladies.  A girlfriend of his, Emily, breaks up with him to marry a Harvard man because she doubts that Billy will amount to much.  In a touching scene, however, Billy does encourage an African-American man who is discouraged because he feels that nobody cares about him or wants to be around him, and he asks Billy if he can help him.  Billy shares with him the Gospel of God’s love.  As the African-American man weeps in Billy’s arms, Billy says that this moment was planned by God thousands of years ago.

Billy gains his preaching voice when he teams up with successful evangelist Charles Templeton.  Billy also hears George Beverly Shea singing on the radio, likes his voice, and travels to Moody without making an appointment to invite Shea to come with him.  In the course of all this, Charles Templeton begins expressing to Billy his doubts about the Christian faith, and Templeton resigns the ministry.  Later, when Billy sees Templeton at a respectable get-together, Templeton publicly dresses down Billy for believing in Christianity.  Billy is shaken by that, and a kindly intellectual (whom Templeton praised for his dissertation about Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy) asked Billy if he was all right.  Billy called his Mom, who told him that he has to decide what his calling is: Is it to answer everything about the Bible, or is it to open people’s hearts to the love of God in Christ?  Billy has a crisis of faith, but he decides to accept the infallibility of the Bible.  At the end of the movie, Billy is powerfully preaching about the Gospel and racial equality.  Billy mentions his atheist friend, who acknowledges that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived, and that tells Billy that there was something special (even authoritative and divine) about Jesus.

The movie was weird in places, but it was an excellent exploration of issues surrounding faith and doubt (despite the depiction of Templeton as a bit crazy near the end of his life).  I myself acknowledge that Christianity has insights.  I agree with Mordecai Ham that there are times when I am filled with love, and there are times when darkness fills my soul.  I also believe that there is value in opening oneself up to the love of God, even if one cannot answer everything about the Bible.  I would like to believe that my life has significance and value, and I want to feel at peace, as Templeton said he felt when he converted to Christianity.  Yet, like Templeton, I have intellectual doubts about Christianity, and I also desire more intellectual meat than Billy Graham usually provides in his sermons.  What is interesting to me is that Billy Graham himself in his later years expressed openness to different ideas: he was more inclusivist in his understanding of salvation, and he stated that he did not believe that evolution was inconsistent with the Christian faith.  He still believes that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross, but he does not seem to embrace a Christianity that writes off all of the non-Christians in the world or ignores scientific evidence.

Something else to note is Billy Graham’s humility.  In the movie, Templeton was enamored by his own ability as an evangelist to hold people in the palms of his hands, and he was thrilled that thousands of people came to see him.  In one scene, however, Billy as a student is asking his professor what it takes to be an evangelist, and the professor responds that an evangelist should not be in evangelism for the fame, but rather to serve Christ, who died for him.  That is my impression of Billy Graham: he is famous and world-renowned, but he never let that go to his head.  Rather, his focus is on Jesus Christ.

It was interesting to read about Mordecai Ham, the evangelist who brought Billy to Christ.  Apparently, Ham was anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic (see here).  Even people who preach the message can have both light and darkness in their souls!

I was surprised that the movie did not go into the role of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in making Graham famous.  The movie did well, however, to focus on Graham’s growth as a preacher, and issues surrounding faith and doubt.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WWJD 2; New Hope; Flywheel

I watched three Christian movies recently: WWJD 2: The Woodcarver, New Hope, and Flywheel.  Here are my thoughts about them.  I’ll include some spoilers when I talk about the movie Flywheel, so be warned!

1.  WWJD 2: The Woodcarver.

This movie came out in 2012, and I presume that it is the sequel to the 2010 movie What Would Jesus Do?, which I reviewed yesterday.  The movies stand apart from each other, however, for there is no overlap between them in terms of characters or setting.  The main similarity between them is that they deal with the popular question, “What would Jesus do?”

In WWJD 2: The Woodcarver, John Ratzenberger (who played Cliff Clavin on Cheers) plays an old-fashioned woodcarver named Ernest.  Ernest mentors a boy who dropped out of school and vandalized a church, and the boy’s parents are continually at each other’s throats and want a divorce.  Meanwhile, the boy’s father works for a lumber company, which is trying to buy out Ernest.

Ernest gently offers the boy and his mother Rita spiritual counsel and advice, based on his Christian beliefs and his experiences.  In one scene, the boy’s father even ends up eating with them, and he remembers how he met and fell in love with Rita: he joined the church’s choir just to meet her, even though he could not sing a note!  The family becomes reconciled.  Meanwhile, Ernest is dealing with his own issues, and, although he shares his wisdom with Rita and her son, he acknowledges that he himself is a work in progress.  Ernest recently lost his wife to cancer, even though they prayed for her recovery, and his faith is being tested on account of that.  Ernest really misses his wife, who offered him guidance and encouragement throughout their marriage.  Ernest also feels guilty about the death of his son: they got into an argument, and the son joined the army and died.

I thought that the movie was good, even though it rushed through some things.  The depiction of mentorship and reconciliation were the best parts of the movie, in my opinion.  Ernest offered support and insight, but not in an in-your-face sort of way.  Moreover, the guy who played the shady Colonel Maybourne in the Stargate SG-1 series has a role in the movie as a school principal!

2.  New Hope.

This movie came out in 2012.  It is about a teenager named Michael whose father is a pastor, and the family moves to the town of New Hope.  Michael is upset about this because it is his senior year, and he was not expecting to spend it trying to fit in among strangers.  Moreover, Michael has to deal with resentment from others at his school.  A basketball star recently committed suicide, and Michael is taking his place on the team, and he is also forming a relationship with the star’s girlfriend.  Michael especially has to contend with the star’s grieving and angry brother, Lucas, who is also on the team.

The pastor in the movie offered good advice about being honest with God and reminding others of their value.  Lucas also made an interesting statement about how people said that he was a loser and he proved them wrong, yet felt a bit empty after that.  My main criticism of the movie is that it dragged on and on.

3.  Flywheel.

This movie came out in 2003, and it was the first movie that was made by the Kendrick brothers, who went on to make Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.  The movie was low budget—-it somewhat reminded me of a home movie, albeit not entirely—-but it went on to earn a lot in DVD sales.

In Flywheel, Alex Kendrick plays a used car salesmen, Jay Austin, who sells cars way above their actual value.  Jay is in debt, his marriage is on the rocks, and his son does not want to grow up to be like him.  After watching a televangelist while flipping through channels and talking with his kindly Christian employee, Max, Jay decides to follow God, and he commits the car lot to the Lord and spends more time with his son.  Jay resolves to be an honest salesman, yet that initially comes at a price: he loses two of his salesmen, and he does not make as much money on each sale.  But, after an undercover investigation on the nightly news reveals to the public that he is one of the few honest salesmen around, people flock to him to buy cars, and he can then pay off his debts.  Jay also pays back those he overcharged.  When a TV reporter corners him on TV about his shady past, the people he paid back—-including an elderly African-American woman who rebuked him—-rush to his defense.  Heeding Max’s advice, Jay steps back and lets God fight his battles for him.

Flywheel is an enjoyable movie.  I especially liked the part where Jay gets a bit arrogant after he returns the money and people are happy with him, then he is humbled as he gives a check to an elderly African-American woman and she rebukes him for having taken advantage of people.  The scene in which she later comes to his defense is one of my favorites.

Is the movie believable?  I can understand the objection that Christian movies are unrealistic: that they often depict God providing happy endings to those who follow him, when that does not necessarily occur in real life.  I do find it believable, however, that being an honest business-person can gain a person a good reputation, and that this can benefit the business-person.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lukewarm; What Would Jesus Do?

I watched a couple of Christian movies yesterday.  The first was Lukewarm, which was a 2012 Christian movie.  The second was What Would Jesus Do?, a 2010 movie that was based on Charles Sheldon’s 1896 classic, In His Steps.  John Schneider from the Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville was in both movies.  Here are some of my thoughts:

1.  There was a lot going on in the first movie that I saw, Lukewarm.  Luke Rogers, a Christian (ha ha, LUKEwarm!), is working at a bar with his friend and is calling himself spiritual rather than an old-fashioned Christian on his drunken joy-rides with his friend and some attractive ladies.  Luke’s friend drinks and drives and accidentally runs over a homeless man one night.  One of Luke’s neighbors, an older gentleman named Thomas, is handing out Christian tracts and is annoying a non-Christian neighbor, who wants Thomas to leave.  Luke’s girlfriend, Jessie, is being pursued by a New York lawyer, who thinks that he can love and support her better than Luke can, but she still loves Luke, as much as Luke disappoints her.  Meanwhile, Luke is dealing with resentment because his father (played by John Schneider) walked out on him and his mother when Luke was a kid and failed to pay consistent child support.  Luke has fond memories of his father, yet cannot bring himself to forgive him.

The movie was rather enjoyable, I guess, but the character I liked most was Thomas.  Thomas had lunch with a homeless man and told him never to underestimate the power of prayer.  When the homeless man said that he never accepted Christ because he figured that his card had already been punched for hell, with all of the sins he had committed, Thomas encouraged him that God could forgive him.  What was remarkable was not that scene, as much as the fact that Thomas continued to maintain a relationship with the homeless man—-to have lunch with him regularly.  Thomas didn’t just witness to the man, figure that his job was done, and walk away, but he sought to maintain a relationship with him and to offer him prayers, friendship, and support.

Thomas also prayed with Luke, asking God to take away Luke’s anger and to give Luke the strength to forgive his father.  Thomas knew about the destructiveness of anger, for he saw it in his father, who (as an African-American) deeply resented the injustices he suffered in the Jim Crow South.  Thomas also told his persecutor, George, that George must be filled with anger, and he told George that he would be praying for him.  The reason that this stood out to me is that I’ve felt in the past as if Christians expect me to carry the burden of my anger alone—-it’s my problem and responsibility to forgive.  But I could have used prayers and moral support.  Evangelical men often support one another when the issue is sexual lust, but I have not seen that type of support among evangelicals when it comes to anger or unforgiveness.  Perhaps they are reluctant to admit such things because they believe that they convey weakness: Sure, they’ll talk about their struggles with lust when a nice-looking lady hits on them, but they want to come across as the strong, Stoic types, the sorts of people who do not get angry.  Maybe I am off base here, but I am just communicating my speculations.

2.  In What Would Jesus Do?, John Schneider plays a drifter who drifts into an economically depressed town.  He is looking for work, but he is turned away, even by people who go to church.  One lady, a real estate agent, tells her secretary not to give leftover sandwiches from a meeting to him because he would then keep coming back, but she should throw the sandwiches in the trash instead.  Another lady does not want to hire him at her newspaper place because he has no experience, plus she does not know him.

Meanwhile, people are struggling.  A shady politician is promising jobs through the replacement of a church with a casino.  The real estate agent and newspaper editor are supporting him.  The pastor of the church is mourning the loss of his family and finds himself jaded and unable to pastor his congregation.  A young man writes Christian songs and is offered a lucrative contract if he will sing the company’s songs, and he and his mother need the money because otherwise they will be thrown out of their home.  People are pressured to compromise, morally and spiritually.

The drifter challenges the people about their failure to follow Jesus, right before he dies.  After that, the movie gets a bit cheesy: the cold real estate agent is now a committed Christian and becomes a candidate to challenge the shady politician.  The rest of the movie still had some redeeming moments, however, as when the real estate agent’s even colder mother finds within herself the compassion to reach out to a homeless runaway.

Overall, the movie was good because it challenged me to think about how people can go to church every Saturday or Sunday yet fail to live according to Christian ethics the rest of the week.  Why are so many of us like this?  Are we afraid to do what’s right because of possible negative consequences?  And can we reach out to people or do what is right, while being realistic?  Should we throw realism out of the window for the sake of principle, or is there a way to be principled and realistic at the same time?  I am sure that people on the front lines of helping others have wrestled with these questions.

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