According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Sudan: An Ancient Country with more Pyramids than Egypt - But No Tourists


The wonder among wonders – the pyramids at Meroë
 Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko / Galyna Andrushko


The surprising country with more pyramids than Egypt –
but no tourists
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/sudan/articles/sudan-and-the-pyramids-you-have-not-heard-of/

by Chris Leadbeater, travel writer
March 24, 2017

The wooden door of the tomb is pulled back, and the underworld reaches up to drag us into its dark grip. Holding a low-intensity torch, my guide Hatim El Nour goes first, the meagre beam identifying rough “stairs” in the soil whose edges have been eaten away by the millennia. We choose our footsteps carefully, the air noticeably cooler as we descend into the burial chamber – where nothing, and nobody, awaits us. Not even the dead.

The keepers of keys at a tomb in El KurruPhoto Credit: Alamy

King Tanutamun – the 17th-century BC monarch who once resided in pyramid K16 of the El Kurru necropolis – is long gone, his sarcophagus vanished. His only presence now is on the walls, in the elegant paintings which depict his achievements. There he is, recreated by a masterful artist, being helped into the afterlife by gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon. Hatim traces them with the torch – Isis, the mother goddess; Anubis, the jackal, the guardian of the departed; Thoth, the baboon, the god of wisdom. Together they convey Tanutamun towards the powerful figure of Osiris, who weighs and measures his soul. “The verdict is a good one,” Hatim says, turning to the mural on the other wall, where the king is seen moving back towards the exit, on into the “next world”.

Inside the burial chamber of the tomb of Tanutamun | Photo Credit: Getty

To glimpse these Egyptian deities, portrayed so clearly in the grave of a man who died in 653 BC, is an utter privilege – but, without context, also misleading. For El Kurru lies not in Egypt, but in Sudan – 275 miles north of the capital Khartoum. Strange? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Because the realm of the pharaohs reached far south of what is now delineated as Egypt – along the Nile, past what is now the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, and a considerable distance across the modern border. Here, in North Sudan, the Ancient Egyptians left behind a wealth of temples and pyramids – and, 42 centuries on, precious few tourists.

That one word, “Sudan”, is the reason for the low traveller numbers at sites which, in a country with a less hair-raising image, would be a blur of coach parties and queues. But this nation has a reputation for trouble which may even stretch back to the Egyptian invasion of its territory by Mentuhotep II in the 21st century BC – but which certainly colours its last 200 years: Ottoman annexation in 1821; coming under the thumb of colonial Britain in 1882; independence in 1956 and a subsequent slump into civil war that eventually sparked the birth of a separate state, South Sudan, in 2011; a dabbling in violence in the Nineties that saw the United States decry it as a sponsor of terrorism, to the point where bombs were dropped on Khartoum. Even now, Sudan’s citizens have been listed in the divisive travel bans put in place by the Trump administration. Tourists? It’s amazing there are any at all.

---

Excerpt:

River boats on the Nile at Khartoum
Khartoum characters | The capital’s colourful history
If the Kushite era is the prime reason to visit Sudan, its capital provides echoes of a more recent period – one that caused problems for Britain, whose intervention in Sudanese affairs started in earnest in 1879 with the demise of Ottoman rule in the “country”. This, though, coincided with the rise of Muhammad Ahmad, a talismanic figure who styled himself as the “Mahdi” (“Guided One”) and began an ascent to power that ended with the siege of Khartoum, the city’s fall in January 1885, and the slaying of the colonial governor – the fabled Victorian Major-General Charles Gordon. 
Reprisals and conquest would be meted out from 1896 to 1898 by Herbert Kitchener, but not before the city had spent a decade under Mahdist control. Both the Mahdi’s Tomb (an ornate domed edifice) and the home of his successor, Khalifa Abdullah (preserved as a museum), are key stops on any tour of Khartoum – offering something a little different to the National Museum (where exhibits include frescoes rescued from the seventh-century Faras Cathedral – now lost under Lake Nasser) and the clutter and commerce of the Omdurman Souk.
Khartoum is also the city where the Blue and White Niles meet, in a calm collision that begs to be photographed.
---

The reality, as is often the way, is more pleasant than you might expect. Hatim and I continue 15 miles north-east, along the leafy corridor daubed on to this aridity by the Nile, to the town of Karima. Around us, all is motion – cattle, conversation and a cavalcade of tuk-tuks in the market square; a contrasting silence beyond at the railway station, built by “civilising” Victorian hands, but bereft of trains for a decade now. It adds up to a North African everydayness which helps explain why – in contrast to some areas of Egypt – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office considers much of Sudan safe to visit. Over coffee – strong, thick, aromatic, brewed on a charcoal burner in a rudimentary “café”, and served in tiny glasses – Hatim dissects the intricacies of the heritage that has brought me here.

As a historian and PhD-level expert in ancient Sudan, as well as a guide, he baulks at the word “Nubian” – the term often used to denote the Sudanese who tussled with the warlords of Luxor and Giza. It relates, he says, to a people who would not appear until 300AD. He talks instead of the Kingdom of Kush, which took shape in the Bayuda Desert around 2500BC. Its fortunes waxed and waned according to Egypt’s strength, weathering Mentuhotep II’s incursion (in 2032BC) and striking back in the eighth century BC, when the mighty King Kashta strode north with intent, and the Kushite kings became the pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty, ruling both “countries” between 760BC and 656BC. These men were no footnotes. They were warriors and empire builders, and they left their imprint across this dusty landscape.

The realm of the pharaohs reached far south of what is now
delineated as Egypt | 
Photo Credit: Alamy

El Kurru was just one of the Kushite royal necropolises. It was in use between 795BC and 315BC – but posterity has not been kind to it. Archaeological study has still to fill all the gaps in the timeline: there is no consensus on who was buried in K1, the biggest of the site’s 22 pyramids (which is currently under excavation). And many of its tombs were pared back to rubble by military magpies in the 19th century. On the outskirts of Karima, Hatim shows me Al Teraif – an agricultural village in the Nile greenbelt which would be unremarkable but for its Ottoman fort. This once-colossal stronghold is also now a ruin, and in the crumbling of its walls, the thievery from which it is born is laid bare. There, in its flanks, are slabs of Kushite masonry, adorned with carvings of kings, queens and gods.

Staring back at Karima from the opposite bank of the Nile, Nuri has fared better. In use from 664BC to 310BC, it superseded El Kurru as royal graveyard – thanks to the status of the men and women who were committed to eternity here. It has 73 pyramids, most of them intact – but the keystone is the earliest, built for King Taharqa, a titan of the 25th Dynasty who wanted his tomb to be a new headline statement befitting his pomp as a ruler of Egypt. Around him grew a Valley of the Kings, a Westminster Abbey – and again, I have it to myself. Aside from Hatim and me, there is nobody here but for the farmer who wanders by as the sun is setting.

Nuri superseded El Kurru as royal graveyard | Photo Credit: Getty

I am agog at the pyramid of King Aspelta, a structure of symmetrical perfection, and there are amused observations from Hatim on the number of photographs I am taking. It dawns on me that, for this Sudanese man, the note of fascination is not the ancient joys he has ambled past every day since childhood – but that anyone would come to see them.

It has 73 pyramids, most of them intact | Photo Credit: Getty

We return to Karima and the comforts of the Nubian Rest House, an Italian-run boutique property of 10 rooms, which overlooks the glue that held this region together. I wake before sunrise to climb it – Jebel Barkal, a sandstone monolith which, although just 322 ft tall and simple to ascend, was regarded as sacred by the rulers who held sway here.

Once I reach the summit, I can appreciate why. On the south-east side of the butte, gazing towards the coming sun, is a column of rock. At this elevation, its resemblance to a rearing cobra – a symbol of Egyptian royal strength – is obvious. So is the outline of the Temple of Amun, constructed circa 1400 BC, below this serpentine pinnacle (probably to harness its imagery), by Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis III, a miracle of lion statues and tumbled pillars, heavily expanded by Taharqa around 680 BC. Near the sanctuary, a wall of hieroglyphics reveals the skill of the Egyptian craftsmen – and the lesser abilities of the Kushites in later centuries.

Metres away, the fertile tranche of mud provided by the Nile is extra evidence as to why ancient leaders would have built here. We follow it upstream, cheating by forging south-east through the unforgiving Bayuda sandscape, clipping off the curve of one of the river’s loops, to the railway town of Atbara – then flitting down to the endgame for the kings of Kush, to the wonder among wonders – the pyramids at Meroë.

Meroë is the mother lode of Kushite heritage | Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko - Fotolia

Here is the mother lode of Kushite heritage. It was used from the ninth century BC to the fourth century AD, but especially from 300BC onwards, in an era of diminished circumstances, when the 25th Dynasty had fallen, the new players of Assyria (modern-day Iran and Iraq) and (later) Rome had wrested control of Egypt, and safety was to be found further south.

Some 177 pyramids stand here, the majority in the Northern Cemetery, in various states of preservation and glory. They could easily have been lost. One notable destroyer was Giuseppe Ferlini, an Italian medic and amateur treasure-hunter who, accompanying Ottoman forces in 1834, decapitated several structures in his lust for gold. Even now, the devastation he wrought on the first-century BC tomb of Queen Amanishakheto is visually shocking, a cultural rape of brute ignorance which left much of the brickwork spilt over the dunes. Thankfully, he did not desecrate the whole area. Adjacent, the tomb of Naherka (built in 140 BC) is a proud survivor, its “H-shaped” entrance – so distinctive of the Meroë pyramids – opening on to a funerary chapel where fine etchings of Isis and Osiris greet the dead king. Above both, Jebel Barkal is visible on the wall.

Two doorways along, the final fate of the Kushite kingdom is embodied in the pyramid of Queen Amanirenas. A Sudanese Boadicea, she took the fight back to Egypt – and to the Romans who were now in charge – in 27 BC. She met with partial success in a war that lasted five years, and was concluded by a favourable treaty, negotiated with Emperor Augustus. This was, though, the last defiance of a civilisation that would fade in the next 300 years, condemned to irrelevance by a new world order on the Mediterranean.

I take my leave too, to Meroë Tented Camp, a luxury retreat a mile away. Here, I look back at the pyramids and decide the Kushites would be pleased with the song they sing of their former greatness. Even if, for now, so few are listening.

How to get there

Cox & Kings (020 3411 1707; coxandkings.co.uk) is offering an 11-day Treasures of Ancient Nubia trip through Sudan which visits the pyramids at El Kurru, Nuri and Meroë, as well as Khartoum.

Prices start at £2,845 per person for a group tour, or £3,745 per person for a private journey – including high-end accommodation, international flights, chauffeured internal travel and guides. Ethiopian Airlines (0800 016 3449; ethiopianairlines.com) flies to Khartoum daily from London Heathrow, via Addis Ababa.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Strong Themes of Redemption in Disney's 2017 Beauty & the Beast



From the start I knew the remake of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (2017) was going to be phenomenal. How? Why because its main character was to be the redoubtable Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" fame! It would be from Emma's many talents and gifts who would bring so naturally her own special British magic to the 25 year old original film story for a new generation of youth to enjoy. No need for Harry Potter this time as our wizardress-heroine Hermione Granger reprises an even stronger role in the character of beloved Belle's deep inner strengths we have come to know and love of Emma's graceful acting upon this 17th Century French legend from long ago.

Besides caring for her father who is a genius clockmaker - recalling to the mind the talented Farrer family of Scottish clockmakers - Belle is portrayed "time and again" :) as one of those rare talents who knows what she's about and how she wishes to invest her life for the general good of all whom she meets. She has no visions of being a stay-at-home-mom when she can lead and teach and educate all who are willing to listen and follow her determination to break out of the life's many defining molds.

But to those narcissistic brutes like a Gaston who carelessly go about life heedless of the harm they do - Belle can only reach out as a feeble broken mirror towards a more reflective way of life offering more than mere self-pleasure and gratification. But as a developing redemptive figure she can only go so far without the willing response of the other in genuine acknowledgement and purposeful change. This, Gaston is not willing to do, as he becomes a darker image of himself as the movie progresses across its colorful scenes of disquieted unrest. Here then lies the truer beast of the film which no magic can undo as Gaston finds his own ruinous ends of self-destruction molded by hateful discrimination's unrelenting drive to subdue a kingdom that is his alone to ruthlessly rule. It is not a dissimilar darkness to the one we saw before throughout the Harry Potter series in Lord Voldemort's committed quest for absolute power over the individual dignities and freedoms of others he would subvert.



The other sad feature of the film is the town people's deep forgetfulness of who they were when having once served the Prince - himself now turned to an angry Beast - when once they had found their own "life and light" in the duties of princely order and rule. But when the Prince lost his way, they, like himself, would be tested as to their truer heart's advocations. It was only through a Prince's belated contrition that a townspeople might once again find its purpose and place in life. And the Prince? It took Belle's forgiving sacrifice and compassionate healing touch to raise him up from the dead (quite literally at the end of the story) to enable him to lead, encourage, and serve his townsfolk again. A Prince once lost to himself in a heart grown cold and beastly. And when done, we sadly find a townsfolk loss to their own purposes to become the more willing pawns to any fiction of leadership which might arrive as substitute role. Which it did in the self-declarative vows of the reprobate personage of Gaston whose leadership is decidely unprincely and thoroughly devoid of compassion, kindness or the slightest hints of thoughtfulness.

It is into these several dramas dear Belle comes to redeem beginning with her simple, fatherly home life that only truly lives with her presence abiding and caring within; then into a small colloquial town inhabited by provincially well-meaning peasants (usually a delight but never in any village when harboring deep stereotypes of fear and ignorance); soon, across the ways of deceiving manly men (Gaston); and later into the torn angers of a fallen hubris (the Beast). To all Belle comes to redeem as the unlikeliest of redeemers. Betrayed by her singing heart and ready goodwill to the difficult tasks lying ahead, she little realizes her difficult course had been set many years earlier by a magician's curse upon the town's beloved Prince.




At which point Belle "comes of age" during a steadily growing infliction of deep personal struggles for survival against a host of unworthies found upon the lying lips of gossip, innuendo, and name-calling; or, an unwanted and troublesome wooer; or that of a struggling aged father dealing with social disconnectedness; or a threatening dark forest holding dangerous rending wolves; and soon thereafter, a foreboding castle ravaged by anger's lost where her worst fears come to life. Fears which seem to mount upwards like the endless towering turrets climbing across the rooflines of a hidden castle's sinister aspect. Here she finds her imprisoned father to then be confronted by the unhopeful dilemma of herself being trapped forever as a prisoner. Thus stealing from her any possibility of becoming who she might become - very life and light to all who would come into her sphere of influence. But rather than to think on these things, in rapid, willful exchange she sacrifices her right to life by freeing her doomed father held against his will for stealing a garden rose from the Beast's beknighted estates. Belle's role as would-be savior unceremoniously ends with the echoing clang of an heavy iron door ringing shut met by a gloomy darkness settling everywhere about.

How curious then that in the midst of dashed hopes and dreams, in the darkest of hours, some lifestories have opportunity to rise above the meanness and anger spinning around them? These are the rare stories of heroes and heroines who breath life into the world's blackness to shine a radiant light into the cellars of imaginations grown cold with time and loss. It is a story as old as the one we find in the personage of Jesus come into a world more religious than godly, more hateful than loving, more ignorant than enlightened. It is a story where to find life one must lose their life in order for others to live. It is a story "as old as time" where when the promised "rose of life" drops its last decaying petal may come the promised luxuriant redemption of love and forgiveness when needed most from the most unlikeliest source of empowerment. That of a hopeful spirit learning her strength of resilency and foresightedness against the unsightly darkness of a world forgetting itself and the good it could do with each other.

God bless the Belle's of this life. Let us learn to listen to them, and allow them to be the blessings they must be for the good of our souls and this wobbly world we live in. There can be no better magic than the heartwarming magic of love and forgiveness! Peace.

R. E. Slater
March 26, 2017





A CRYSTAL FOREST
poetry link

by William Sharp

The air is blue and keen and cold,
With snow the roads and fields are white
But here the forest's clothed with light
And in a shining sheath enrolled.
Each branch, each twig, each blade of grass,
Seems clad miraculously with glass:

Above the ice-bound streamlet bends
Each frozen fern with crystal ends.
.
.
.
Belle reads William Sharp's poem "A Crystal Forest"
in Beauty & the Beast and then adds the following
lines from the Disney script:

"For in that solemn silence is heard
in the whisper of every sleeping thing:

Look, look at me,
Come wake me up
for still here I'll be."



BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Official Trailer (2017)
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens Movie




Emma Watson sings as Belle 
n Disney's 2017 "Beauty & the Beast"








Belle the Bold: How Disney’s New Beauty and
the Beast Redefines the Classic, Heroine Role
http://www.vogue.com/article/beauty-and-the-beast-screening-artist-cleo-wade

March 13, 2017

On the night of International Women’s Day, an intimate group of editors joined artist, activist, and poet Cleo Wade for a special screening of Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. The film, which stars Emma Watson as a stronger, more intrepid and courageous Belle, confronts classical fairy-tale traditions by redefining the princess role. Following the screening at the Crosby Street Hotel, Wade led a discussion addressing the movie’s themes of female empowerment, human compassion, and unconditional love. Below are some of the evening’s highlights.

Belle is not the typical “Beauty” . . .

“There is no hero in this film, only a ‘she-ro,’ ” said Wade. “I love what a nontraditional princess Belle [Watson] is. She is the ‘girl power’ princess . . . there is not a single moment in the film where she is the damsel in distress.” Throughout the movie, Belle proves she’s an educator, an innovator, and a swift decision-maker. “She’s obsessed with reading, and she’s the one always saving the day,” said Wade. Assertive and brave, Belle consistently refuses the advances of the dim-witted hunk Gaston, and in doing so, sets her bar high. “I love in life when women are able to set their standards and keep their standards. Then the men have to rise to those standards,” Wade said.

. . . And Gaston is just not good enough.

“I thought Gaston was really interesting because he is more than a character—he is a symbol of a certain type of male who, I think, is not enough for the modern woman,” said Wade. Belle’s refusal of Gaston sends a clear message that a man’s interest alone is not a reason to acquiesce. “He’s not just the guy that you are annoyed with. For young girls, it’s like, ‘This is not good enough for you.’ ”

The village rally, initiated by Gaston, is a warning sign for modern times.

Apart from being a former captain in the army, Gaston is also the de facto leader of the village. When he hears about the Beast, his immediate reaction is to mobilize troops and attack. “It was so interesting to see the parallels in real life,” said Wade about this moment in the film. “This one thing—just proof the Beast exists—is used to rally a large group of people behind something that isn’t necessary true or real. I so hope that young people watch this film and understand that there are two sides to every story. You never know—the beast can actually be a prince.”




The cast of "Beauty and the Beast"
dish on the upcoming remake






A tale of two Belles: 1991 and 2017.


How Disney Subtly Made ‘Beauty And The Beast’ More Feminist
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-disney-subtly-made-beauty-and-the-beast-more-feminist_us_58cfd97ce4b0ec9d29dd676f

by Emma Gray
March 20, 2017


The new film goes to great lengths to demonstrate
Belle’s agency in every part of the story.

For women who grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, few characters loom larger than Belle from the 1991 Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast.”

Compared to her Disney princess predecessors, Belle was a revelation. She wasn’t asleep for 75 percent of a story that centered around her (”Sleeping Beauty”). She did more than dress up for a ball (”Cinderella”) and unintentionally threaten other women with her beauty (”Snow White”). And she didn’t have to woo a man while physically stripped of her voice (”The Little Mermaid”). Belle, with her interest in learning and reading, and her lack of interest in being married off to a walking caricature of toxic masculinity, presented a portrait of a more empowered Disney princess.

The latest iteration of the 18th-century fairy tale is the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson, which came out over the weekend with a record-breaking $170 million in ticket sales. It’s delightful to watch, complete with stunning visuals, splashy musical numbers and a subtle but refreshingly feminist update.

Feminists have long grappled with the contradictory forces that are at play in the 1991 Disney film. On the one hand, Belle maintains a strong sense of self throughout the movie. She has a passion for books. She is defiant in the face of men who want to make decisions for her. She is fiercely loyal to her father. She wants adventure “much more than this provincial life.” On the other hand, she falls in love with a literal animal who initially tells her that she must remain his prisoner forever.

Over the years, the movie has received strong criticism for romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome and sending a message to young girls that it is their job to tame the male “beasts” in their lives. The 2017 version of “Beauty and the Beast” had to contend with this critique before it was even released, with Emma Watson pushing back on it in a February interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“It’s something I really grappled with at the beginning; the kind of Stockholm Syndrome question about this story,” she said. “That’s where a prisoner will take on the characteristics of and fall in love with the captor. Belle actively argues and disagrees with [Beast] constantly. She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm Syndrome because she keeps her independence, she keeps her independence of mind.”

The new film goes to great lengths to demonstrate Belle’s agency in every part of the story, amplifying things that are only subtly touched on in the animated version, and in some cases, creating totally new pieces of plot.

In the 1991 film, Belle is an avid reader. In the 2017 version, she wants to pass that skill and passion along to other girls. (At one point in the film, she attempts to teach a young girl in town to read and is reprimanded by the older male schoolmaster.) And to make it even clearer that Belle’s mind ― not her pretty face ― is her greatest asset, the film turns her into an inventor. She is shown doing the laundry with a contraption she invented herself, sort of a horse-powered precursor to the washing machine.

The movie also makes a point to highlight her romantic agency. Belle rejects the overtures of town cad Gaston even more clearly in 2017 than she did in 1991, telling him flat-out that they could never ever make each other happy and that she will never marry him.


And when it comes to the slow burn romance between Belle and the Beast, the film at least attempts to offer a better explanation for their eventual amorous connection ― and attempts to make it clear that Belle never accepts her fate as a permanent prisoner. She swears to her father that she will escape from the Beast’s castle when she forces him to to trade spots with her. On her first night in the castle, she begins constructing a long chain made of dresses, implying that she might use it in the future to scale her way out of the castle.

Later on, rather than simply justifying Belle and Beast’s romantic bond with one life-saving incident, a few snowballs and a few books (though all of those elements are present in the new movie), the updated version leaves more room for their affection to grow. They discuss Shakespeare and King Arthur. They briefly travel to Paris through an enchanted book and learn about the fate of Belle’s mother ― a character whose existence is ignored in the animated movie. The resulting emotional intimacy bolsters the argument that the Beast has earned Belle’s eventual love.

As an added bonus, the side characters, both women and men, are fleshed out in ways that add to the stakes of the story. The audience is not just invested in Belle and her quest for love, understanding and adventure. We also feel for the other inhabitants of the cursed castle. The family film also highlights (albeit subtly) an openly gay character, Le Fou, and includes two prominent interracial couples ― Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and new character Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci).

Interestingly, despite its shortcomings, “Beauty and the Beast” has always included elements of feminist commentary ― even in its earliest iterations. The fairy tale was first published in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and then revised and republished in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Even the earliest version of story ― which contains many narrative elements that the 1991 animated film does not ― pushed back on the notion that women must be resigned to a marital partner of their father’s choosing, something that was common practice in 18th-century France.

This theme of ownership over one’s life choices comes through quite strongly in the 1991 film.

As French professor Paul Young told Time of the story’s 18th-century context: “[’Beauty and the Beast’ is] a story written and published by a woman, with a strong female character at its lead, who is very reflective and intelligent and she makes her own choices, which is not something you saw in French literature or in French society at the time.”

Of course, there will always be limits to the progressive messaging of a story that involves a woman falling in love with a man who begins as her captor. But in 2017, the “tale as old as time” manages to strike a balance between the warmth of nostalgia and the importance of feminist progress. So, Disney, if you’re thinking of giving feminist updates to more of the classics... Be Our Guest!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Scot McKnight: Review of "The Shack," Part 3/3


Image courtesy: windblownmedia.com

Baffled by the Criticisms of The Shack?
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/03/10/baffled-criticisms-shack/

by Scot McKnight
Mar 10, 2017

Anyone who knows me knows that as a Christian I proudly stand in the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition. Every time I confess the Nicene Creed in worship, I do so with deep conviction. I am unapologetically trinitarian and I resist any attempts at modern modalist reconfigurations of the essential Christian doctrine of God. I firmly believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and I strongly object to any attempt to have a resurrected Jesus without his actual earthly body.

I love theology and I love the necessary precision of theological language. But I also love the imaginative narrative that displays theology in ways that speak to the head and to the heart, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Shack several years ago and found myself rather baffled then, and somewhat mystified now, with the advent of the movie, at so many of the very negative appraisals of the book (and now the movie) on theological grounds from other Christians. (FYI: I have not yet seen the movie.)

Casting aside the aspersions of the book as juvenile and sophomoric literature, what I loved about the book was that in a wonderfully imaginative way it dealt with doctrine, relating it to the always deeply relevant and timely philosophical and theological matters that relate to the problem of evil, forgiveness, the nature of God, and God’s work in this world by God’s very presence. To be sure, there were times when I didn’t agree with a particular narrative move the author, Paul Young, made in a portrayal, but then again, I have yet to always agree with every scholarly and not-so-scholarly constructive theological treatment I have read.

Without precise theological language, the great doctrines of our faith have no boundaries that give them their distinctive character. Without narrative imagination our doctrines will appear to many to be somehow beside the point of life. Theologians may prefer to read something more substantive like Karl Barth, and I love Barth - but they need to know that the folks in the pews (and outside the pews as well) are not reading the great Swiss-German theologian - they are reading Paul Young and now they are going to see the movie. (As example, as much as I love Barth’s Church Dogmatics, I doubt there is a movie about it in the offing.)

I heard Paul Young speak several years ago. If you ever get an opportunity to hear him you must make the effort. As I listened to Paul, I remember becoming rather angry at the charge of heresy that had been leveled against him by those, who may know their theology, but know little about the nature of true heresy, as well as having no idea how to express theological truth in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives. (See my post on the use and misuse of heresy.) C.S. Lewis often complained that the biggest problem with theologians was that they lacked imagination in their theological explications. If Lewis were still alive he would know that little has changed.

There are times when I have wondered if Jesus was accused of “heresy” when he compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. On occasion I have considered the possibility that Jesus was charged with a less than orthodox doctrine of God when he, in story form, compared God to the father who gladly threw aside his dignity and self-respect to welcome home a wayward son. There have been times when I thought that perhaps Jesus was ridiculed by the trained theologians for his portrayal of God as an unjust judge.

I love reading theology. I enjoy parsing terminology and honing the sharp edges of doctrine into something finely tuned and precise. But I also enjoy reading the imaginative narratives that help me think theologically about life and faith in ways I had never considered.

I am an unapologetic Nicene-Chalcedonian trinitarian theologian; and I applaud Paul Young for his portrayal of the Trinity and his narrative display of some of our most significant beliefs and convictions in The Shack.



Related Links:



Unanswered Prayers, A Silent God, and the Death of a Child


Amazon link
Book Blurb

After the unexpected, accidental death of his three-year-old son, Jason Jones went on a long, painful journey to make sense of how God could have let this happen to his son and best friend, Jacob, and to their family. And he struggled intensely with his faith after everything he thought about God disintegrated on June 12, 2011.

In "Limping But Blessed," Jones explores struggling with faith and belief, dealing with his depression and grief, and searching for hope in a hopeless situation. The book includes tales of his darkest days, correspondence he had with Christian theologians, and what he's done to preserve his son's legacy.

At some point in each of our lives, something goes terribly wrong, and our faith is shaken to the core. This book is the story of one man's journey through the darkest time of life searching for answers and a grueling attempt to find a sliver of hope to keep holding on.

Publr - Fortress Press
Publ Date - April 1, 2017

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Limping But Blessed
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/limping-but-blessed

by Thomas J. Oord
March 21st, 2017
“My son is dead, but I still think about him in the present tense. When we talk about people who have died we often talk about them in the past tense. I struggle to reconcile this when I talk about Jacob.” - Jason Jones
That’s the way Jason Jones begins his new book, Limping But Blessed: Wrestling with God after the Death of a Child. That introductory paragraph and the rest of this essay is a guest post from Jason. Here’s the rest of what he says in the book’s introduction…

Limping But Blessed
by Jason Jones

It may be semantics, but in my mind Jacob is not gone forever. He is still my son. I didn’t used to have a son. I have a son. So, when I talk about him, I try to say things like: “He is a sweet fun-loving kid.” I know that sounds crazy to other people. Maybe they think that I’m living in denial. But because I believe Jacob continues to be who he is, there is no reason to speak of him using the past tense. I don’t want to say Jacob was a good boy. I want to say Jacob is a good boy. He didn’t stop being who he is at the time of the accident.

This is especially true because I believe in a life that comes after this earthly life. And I believe I will be with Jacob again. I don’t know or understand what that will look like, but I do have faith that all things will be made new again. For the sake of not confusing you, however, when I talk about Jacob in this book I will use the past-tense verb “was” instead of “is.”

This book is about Jacob’s life, and his death. It’s about what happened on the day of his accident and about what unfolded in the following days, months, and years. And it’s about my tenuous, tortured, doubt-filled relationship with God.

You see, God didn’t answer my prayers when Jacob died. None of them. They all went unanswered. And to this day, I still experience an overwhelming silence from God.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God anymore. But I don’t believe in him the way I used to.

I don’t know if God is.

But I know this: Jacob is.

So maybe God is, too.

My Superhero

The day we found out we were having a boy, I was full of excitement and joy. I loved playing with dolls and having princess parties with the girls, but I was excited about the new experiences raising a boy would bring—teaching him how to throw a football, fighting with action figures on the living room floor, and watching sports together on Sunday afternoons.

Jacob was delivered via C-section, so when he was born I was only able to get a short glimpse of a fat pasty baby with bright red hair as they rushed him over to a table out of sight. He was a plump little thing with rolls all over and a head full of fine red hair. When he finally blinked his little blue eyes open wide enough, we connected. That was it. This was my son, and I was in love.

Jacob brought a new level of energy to our house. The girls were quiet and well behaved when they played, but Jacob was loud and rambunctious. He was a whirlwind around the house, making noise wherever he went. When he learned how to walk, he stole the girl’s high heel dress-up shoes and put them on. From the other side of the house we could hear him, clanking down the hall with those cheap plastic shoes that didn’t fit his feet. A typical little brother, he put on their girly costume dress-up clothes and ran through the house laughing because he knew how much it bothered his sisters.

Recently, Brea and I were talking about how much of Jacob’s personality had already begun shining through even though he was only three years old. He never reacted to anyone as a stranger and was a happy, contented toddler. He was independent, adventurous, and curious. What stood out to me most was how tenderhearted he was. He loved to cuddle, unlike our daughters, so he got plenty of cuddles from his mommy and daddy. He wasn’t shy about giving kisses and big hugs either. He was very affectionate, and everyone that he knew loved that about him.

Jacob was fascinated with superheroes. Every day, he dressed up in a different superhero outfit, or a mix-and-match of a few. Some days he’d wear his cowboy boots, blue jean shorts, and a Batman shirt and mask. When Brea ran errands with him, she often had the protection of Batman or Buzz Lightyear as she walked up and down the grocery store aisle. Brea loves to tell the story of the time when a neighbor’s cow got loose and wandered into our front yard. When Brea and Jacob walked outside, the cow started walking toward them, and Jacob put up his arm like Iron Man and started making shooting noises to keep the cow at a safe distance from him and his mother.

Our relationship at first was father and son. But we quickly became playmates, and I often called him my “little buddy.” As Jacob got older, building a fort and playing with superhero action figures inside of it was one of our favorite things to do together. He gathered up his action figures and climbed in dressed as a superhero, and we went wherever his toddler imagination would take us.

Our forts were a mess of sheets secured by as many pillows as we could gather and fortified by dining room chairs and the living room couch. I usually played the bad guy and Jacob was the good guy (of course). One of his favorite action figures was Blue Beetle. I’d never heard of him when I was growing up, but he became Jacob’s favorite to carry around and play with. Sometimes, out of nowhere, Jacob looked at me and pointed and called me Blue Beetle. Since Blue Beetle was his favorite and he carried him everywhere with him, I took it as a compliment.

I vividly remember a poignant moment with Jacob on one of the many days we spent together in our fort. While we were playing, I asked Jacob if he knew who Jesus was. I don’t really know what prompted me to ask my three-year-old this question, but I did. He looked up at me, and he said, “Yes. He’s the man at Papa’s church.” (Papa is the name the grandchildren call my dad.) I put my head down so he couldn’t see me laughing at his answer. He was right, though. Jesus was the man at Papa’s church. A few weeks earlier, we had gone to an Easter play at my parents’ church where we saw a man dressed up like Jesus. We talked a little bit more about the Easter play, and Jacob remembered seeing Jesus go up into the clouds. I’m sure this reminded him of all the superheroes he saw flying around on television. I knew at some point I would revisit who Jesus was, but I wasn’t going to confuse him with that explanation at this point. So I moved on.

One of the most special times Jacob and I had together was two weeks before he died. Our family went to a bed-and-breakfast retreat for the weekend with a group of other families. We knew there was a river close by, so we brought fishing poles, including a Spiderman fishing pole for Jacob. He’d never been fishing and was excited to get to use his very own fishing pole, especially one with a superhero on it.

From the time we arrived, he begged me to take him fishing. Honestly, I’m not very interested in fishing, so I kept putting it off. Plus, I didn’t expect that we’d catch anything. On our last day, Jacob asked me again about fishing, and I knew I had to take him.

All three of the kids and I walked down to the river and found an open spot in between some trees. We put all of our poles and gear down, I pulled out one of the worms, and I showed them how to put one on a hook. None of them liked that very much and asked me to do it for each of their poles. The kids proceeded to get hooks stuck in trees and broke lines on roots in the water. They didn’t know any better and just figured this was part of the deal. After several casts and no bites, Kendall and Kelsey grew tired of it and walked off. I wanted to join them, but Jacob wanted to stay and keep fishing.

While I was baiting a hook on his Spiderman fishing pole he squatted down low to the ground like I did and put his hands on his knees. He patiently watched me put the hook through the worm. He scrunched up his little pudgy nose like he thought it was gross. In the sweetest voice he asked me, “Daddy, are we fishing?” He wanted to make sure we were really accomplishing our goal. I told him, “Yes, Jacob we are fishing.”

After casting and casting, to my surprise we actually caught a fish! I was as shocked as Jacob was. “Ha! Jacob, we caught a fish,” I told him. I let him reel it in, and he was beaming with excitement. He started laughing at the fish flopping around on the ground.

We both felt pretty proud of ourselves. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I took Jacob fishing—it’s a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. It may sound like a very simple story, but it’s one of those father-son moments dads dream about. It’s even more sacred to me because he died only two weeks later. Thankfully, Brea was able to sneak up behind us that day and take a picture of the two of us to capture the moment. That picture is one of my prized possessions and it’s in my office next to me every day.

This book is dedicated to Jacob, my superhero.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Benjamin Corey - 5 Things You're Reading When You're Reading the Bible


Dwight Stone, Flickr

5 Things You’re Reading When You’re Reading The Bible
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/the-things-youre-reading-when-youre-reading-the-bible/

by Dr. Benjamin L. Corey
March 13, 2017

I love the Bible.

It’s why I spent eight years of my life in seminary, why I’ve served as a church pastor even when they couldn’t afford to pay me, and is why even now I end up finding Greek flashcards in the most random places in my house.

But my love for the Bible includes honesty.

When we love someone or something, it’s easy to grow to see them the way you want to see them in your mind, often overlooking obvious realities that, if acknowledged, would create more work for the relationship. I did that for many years with the Bible, but now my love for it includes a willingness to embrace it for all it is– and to be honest about that.

In my years of studying, wrestling, and growing to love the Bible deeper and more honestly, I’ve come to embrace and acknowledge that when we read the words on the page, we’re reading a lot more than just those words. So, here’s 5 things we’re reading, when we’re reading the Bible:

5. You’re reading books and letters where the primary/original meaning is what the author intended the original audience to understand.

I remember learning in Sunday School that the Bible was “God’s love letter to us.” It’s a cute idea, but is less than helpful because we’re not the original audience, and that matters.

The reality is that these are sacred books, stories, and letters, where the primary/original meaning is the meaning the original author intended to convey to the original audience - and we’re neither of those parties. It’s almost like trying to understand an inside joke; until you understand the relationship between the sender and receiver of a message, and the context of what’s being discussed, it’s easy to walk away with all sorts of broken understandings of what was really being communicated. This makes things like understanding ancient culture, customs, and general history, a critical aspect of understanding the Bible.

4. You’re reading an unfolding story of people slowly growing in their understanding of God.

For those of us who grow up in conservative traditions, we’re often taught that the nature and character of God is perfectly revealed on every page of Scripture, but that’s not actually true.

The Bible, while a collection of books spanning centuries, is ultimately an unfolding story of people trying to understand what God is like. There are glimpses of God revealed throughout the story, as well as misunderstandings about God, and even blaming horrid actions on God - but the revelation of God is a progressive revelation. The entire narrative builds towards the introduction of a main character– Jesus– who is God made flesh and reveals that the nature and character of God has often been profoundly misunderstood.

The giant twist of the story was the realization that the only way to know what God is like, is to look at what Jesus is like– everything else gets reinterpreted in light of God made flesh.

3. You’re reading the judgment call, and even bias, of a translator.

Translation may involve the same part of your brain as math, but it’s not *exact* like math. The reality is that when translating ancient manuscripts into modern language, there are words and expressions that do not have a 1 for 1 swap. You also find words that could have meant many different things in the original language, and without the ability to ask the original author which meaning they meant or which meaning the original audience most likely would have understood, you’re left with no choice but to make your best guess– and that best guess can radically change the flavor of any given passage.

Other times there is outright bias on the part of the translator to the point where they will deliberately translate something in a way that is more favorable to their opinion or position. Either way, when you read the Bible you’re already reading someone else’s best guess, or someone else’s bias.

2. You’re reading nuance in English that does not exist in Greek.

Translation isn’t just a challenge from Greek or Hebrew into English, but also brings up reverse issues: words in English that carry flavors, associations, and nuance, that would not have existed in the original language. When this happens, we are subtly led to read things into Scripture without even knowing we’re doing it– unconsciously assuming that modern or English nuance actually applies to the text.

A great example of this is the word “hell.” The NT uses three completely different words that we translate into English as hell, even though all three Greek words have different nuance– none of them being the equivalent to what we think about when we see the English word, hell. Our version of the word didn’t exist in the first century, so using the English word “hell” causes us to read a modern understanding into an ancient text, wrongly.

1. You’re reading your own beliefs, assumptions, and generational theology.

Every time you pick up a Bible, you’re reading not just words on a page but are also reading previously held beliefs and assumptions into the text. This is a version of confirmation bias, which essentially is an unwillingness (often subconscious) to have your cherished view be shaken by additional facts or information, and is a *really* hard habit to break.

If your childhood was spent being taught that X was true, when you read the Bible you’ll read it in such a way that assumes X is true. When you encounter a passage that contradicts or challenges X, you’ll naturally look for alternative ways to understand the passage so that it lines up with your unwillingness to consider that X may not be true after all.
  • Believe violence against enemies is ok? You’ll read that into the Bible.
  • Taught that God is full of wrath, that there’s a great tribulation about to come upon us, and that the end is here? You’ll read that into the Bible, too.
That’s because it’s natural to bring our own beliefs and assumptions to the party with us, and to read the Bible in such a way that makes it conform to the view we already hold– we all do it, we just have to learn to be aware that we’re doing it.

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I grew up in the world where people had bumper stickers that said, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” but it’s really not that simple. The Bible is a complex collection of writings. There are translation issues, narrative issues, nuance of language issues, and the human tendency to make something conform to a previously held belief.

I think we need to be honest about that, and allow that to invite us into a posture of humility when reading the Bible.

I still love the Bible every bit as much as I loved it back then, but I love it with more honesty now– even though it creates a lot more work for the relationship.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Roger Olson - Review of William P. Young's Book and Recent Movie, "The Shack," Part 2/3


Introduction

I loved "The Shack" when I read it, and felt the movie that came out in March 2017 was very close to the original book's message. Frankly, its themes of the love of God, man's free will to love or unlove, and the tragedy of life when beset by sin, is one of those deep areas hard to understand but tells of God's love so plainly that it becomes the very substance which makes sense of all else in this thing called life. And it is the deep realization of God's love which the author, William P. Young, wished to express based upon a severe tragedy in his early life many years ago.

What I liked about the book is that Young took all the gnarly accusations of God and centered them into a fictious figure suffering an awful tragedy who began, in parable form, the long, hard process of working out what he believed was true and later, needed to correct, about the love of God in intricate dialogue and restorative venues. Which means watching the film will not be enough. It will require a thorough reading of Young's easily read (but deeply disturbing) book, The Shack, which must also be in order. And for its themes to truly sink in, a sharing of Mac's discoveries with fellow book club members.

To do this I've provided two reviews - one by Olson, who presents a list a questions for a reader or a book club to work through along with a companion volume. And secondly by Oord, who moves to the larger themes present in the book while presenting his own companion volume related to those larger themes.

Now I hesitate to advise forming "a bible study with church members" because so many in the evangelical church will misunderstand the theology behind the book (both Olson and Oord speak to this problem). For myself, it was when thinking/praying/meditating through The Shack that I discovered  the paucity in my own thoughts about God, and then, over many years later, finally began to form my current blog/reference/website Relevancy22 to speak to this oversight and subsequent re-orientation of my thoughts about God.

Relizedly, throughout Relevancy22 the basic themes of The Shack can be found under dozens and dozens and dozens of topical headings if churchly direction is needed. But it would be best to begin on your own. If your journey is like mine, you'll find yourself re-thinking many of the church's errant teachings on God, His work and ways. For myself, The Shack's most basic message brought me back to the God I knew was there but hidden in the theology of the church thus creating conflict where it did not need to exist. This is the beauty of "Finding God" somewhere along life's journey. His/Her love comes to you from the most curious places to catch us back up to Himself/Herself even as Young learned and wished to present through the (autobiographical) novel's thoughtful arguments and penetrating lessons.

Enjoy!

R.E. Slater
March 22, 2017


A scene from the movie, The Shack

Finding God in “The Shack”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2017/03/finding-god-shack/

by Roger Olson
March 4, 2017
Comments

Amazon link
Yesterday I viewed the new movie “The Shack” which is based on the 2007 book of the same title by William Paul Young. (If you have seen the movie you know why I chose the above image to go along with this post.) I have been looking forward to the movie with both excitement and trepidation. My main fear was that it would omit the heavy theological message of the book. It did not, although it did omit much of the dialogue. Somehow, however, the movie makers managed to squeeze in the main theological ideas Young included in his book.

My movie viewers guide and theological movie review will be on InterVarsity Press’s web site in the near future. I will certainly notify my readers here when that is the case. For now I will not post those here but let IVP have them first.

In 2008 InterVarsity Press, one of my main publishers, asked me to write a theological commentary on the book The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Windblown Media). I wrote it in less than a month and it was published as Finding God in “The Shack” in early 2009. It sold well and is still in print.

I hope you will buy a copy of my book if you have any interest in The Shack–either the book or the movie or both.

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*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

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The movie lived up to my highest expectations and did not disappoint in any way. I have never seen a “Hollywood” movie (so not a Billy Graham film) that presented the gospel so clearly and unequivocally. That is not to endorse every sentence in the movie; it is only to say that if a person is able and willing to take it for what it (and the book) is–a parable–and not be put off by the imagery that person will hear the gospel in the movie.

Of course, were I a Calvinist, I might not think that. But, of course, I’m not, so when I say “the gospel” I mean the Arminian version of it. I do not know if Young considers himself an Arminian, but he cannot be a Calvinist. A major theme of the book and the movie is that evil and innocent suffering are not planned or willed by God even if God does permit them. They are the result of human misuse of free will. Free will plays a major role in the book and in the movie and the free will being referred to is non-compatibilist (i.e., it is power of contrary choice).

But the center of the movie is God’s goodness and love and our need to trust him in spite of what may happen to us or others.

A few years ago I met William Paul Young and heard him speak. His speech explained the autobiographical aspects of The Shack. He suffered a terrible event in his early life that could have made him question God’s goodness. Now, however, he wants everyone to know that the God of the Bible–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–is perfect, unconditional love who does not want any people to suffer unjustly and who wants everyone to be redeemed and has done everything to redeem everyone. Now, of course, it is up to us whether to be redeemed or not.

I highly recommend the movie, but I also urge people who see it to read the book. The book contains much more than the movie in terms of God explaining to the main character–“Mack”–God’s will and God’s ways. I also urge people who see the movie or read the book (or both) to get and read my book Finding God in “The Shack” which, again, is published by InterVarsity Press and is available from Amazon.

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*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment solely to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).


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My Review of the Movie “The Shack”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2017/03/review-movie-shack/

by Roger Olson
March 16, 2017
Comments

Dear blog friends: Below you will find my review of the movie The Shack preceded by a “viewer guide” to the movie. I wrote these for InterVarsity Press which published my book Finding God in "The Shack'"in 2009. This viewer guide and review was first posted on their web site together with the information about my book.

May I just say that I am very disappointed in some evangelical Christians’ responses to both the book and the movie; in my opinion some of them are extremely shallow and dismissive. One that I have read even admitted that he will not view the movie or review it and then, on his blog, he does review it without seeing it. That seems very strange to me. He is the Calvinist blogger who labeled my book “Finding God in ‘The Shack'” a “weak effort” (back in 2009). I can only consider his “unreview” of a movie he has not seen and has no intention of seeing a weaker effort. If a person is going to talk about a movie he or she should at least see it first–unless it is notoriously pornographic, of course. Then just say that and move on. The Calvinist blogger to which I refer here says the movie “The Shack” makes the invisible (God) visible and, to him, seemingly, that is nearly blasphemous (not his words but mine). He does not seem to me to “get it” that this is just a parable full of imagery not to be taken literally.

Of course, I don’t expect Calvinists to like the theology of the movie, but I do expect them to at least view it before talking about it. This happened a few years ago when Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” was being promoted–before it was published. Many Calvinists trashed the book before reading it. (I blogged about that.)

If you decide to respond to my comments here or to my review, please keep your comments civil and constructive (as always). If you disagree (or agree) give reasons. Keep your comment brief, please.

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Viewer Guide to and Review of the Movie “The Shack”
by Roger E. Olson

Introduction: The movie “The Shack” (2016) is based on the 2007 book of the same title by William Paul Young. (It is published by Windblown Media and was written together with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. The subtitle of the book is “Where Tragedy Meets Eternity.”) This movie viewer guide is to help people who see the movie think about its message. The movie, like the book, contains a very strong Christian theological message without being a sermon or lecture. Calling it a “Christian theological message” does not imply agreement with every point of the message. This writer believes it is always important especially for Christians to be biblically discerning when reading any book or watching any movie. Below are some questions to consider when viewing the movie. Following this viewer guide is a movie review which contains spoilers; you may not want to read it until after viewing the movie.

  • If you read The Shack, how does the movie compare with the book—especially with regard to its message about God?
  • What is the movie’s overall message about God—his nature and character?
  • What is “the Great Sadness” referred to both in the book and movie? Whose sadness is it? What causes it—beyond a specific event?
  • This question could be interpreted as belonging before the previous two questions, but here it is: "What is the overall theme and message of the movie?"
  • How would you describe the main character’s (Mackenzie Phillips’s or “Mack’s”) religious life in the early part of the movie? How deep is it?
  • Mack’s two daughters have theological questions; they raise them to him during their camping experience after viewing a waterfall and hearing Mack tell a legend about its origin. What are they really wrestling with in terms of the Bible’s story about God and Jesus? What do you think about Mack’s answer?
  • The movie revolves around a tragic event. What does it do to Mack and his family? That is, how do they respond emotionally—especially in terms of their personal feelings and thoughts about their own roles in it and God’s?
  • Does how God is portrayed in the movie bother you? Why or why not? Are you supposed to take it literally? (If not, how are you supposed to interpret the depiction of God?)
  • Clearly, this movie, like the book it is based on, is intended to convince you to think a certain way about God, human existence in the world, tragedy, evil, the meaning of life. The following questions are guides to thinking with the movie. Implied in each question, without being stated explicitly, is the question “and what do you think about this and why?”
  • According to the movie, what is the real cause of Mack’s Great Sadness? (In the book, anyway, his “Great Sadness” refers to more than an emotional feeling or state of mind; it refers to something deeper in the human condition.)
  • The movie, like the book it is based on, contains a message about “religion.” What is that message?
  • How do the divine characters in the movie “diagnose” Mack’s condition? What do they tell him are the underlying causes of his emotional and spiritual malaise? What do they ask him to do?
  • The movie, like the book, contains and communicates a certain theological perspective about evil, tragedy, innocent suffering, humanity, and God. A pivotal point in all that seems to be a certain perspective on free will. What is it?
  • According to the movie (and the book), what is the purpose of free will? What good does it serve? Why has God given it to humans? What are we supposed to do with it?
  • Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie, which is also in the book, is Mack’s confrontation with “Wisdom” in a cave. What message does Wisdom (an aspect of God) give Mack about himself?
  • If we view the book and the movie as a kind of parable, whom does Mack represent?
  • There is a word in philosophy and theology for any attempt to explain why there is evil and innocent suffering in a world created and ruled over by an all-good and all-powerful God: theodicy. What is the movie’s theodicy?
  • How does the movie portray life after death?
  • What is the “turning point” for Mack—in the story? At what point, and why, does “the Great Sadness” fall away?

Inevitably, viewers will have widely varying emotional responses to the story—depending partly, anyway, on their own experiences of tragedy. Setting emotion aside as much as possible, what do you think about the movie’s message—about God, the human condition in this world, tragedy, evil and innocent suffering, forgiveness, salvation, etc.?

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A Theological Review of the Movie “The Shack”
by Roger E. Olson

Spoiler alert! If you have not seen the movie based on the book (of the same title) you may not want to read this review until you have seen the movie. It contains “dead giveaways” about the movie—including its ending. However, the movie adheres closely to the book, so if you’ve read the book but not yet seen the movie, you may want to read this movie review anyway.

The movie “The Shack” (2017) is the long-awaited film version of the book The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by William Paul Young (with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings) published in 2007 by Windblown Media. This writer/reviewer read the book when it was published and wrote a theological commentary on the book entitled Finding God in The Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption published by InterVarsity Press in 2009. (Unbeknownst to this writer another book of the same main title was published by another publisher at almost the same time!) The book The Shack was causing much controversy among Christians—including some who did not even read it! This writer [myself] is an evangelical Christian theologian; my commentary was intended to guide fellow Christians in thinking about the book’s theological message. After my book was published I had the privilege of meeting William Paul Young and hearing him speak about The Shack. I spoke about The Shack and my book about that book in many churches during the years 2009-20012. Then the “hubbub” died down. Now, with the release of the long-awaited movie version, many Christians have a renewed interest in the story and its message. That is the purpose of this movie review: to express my own opinions about the movie and its message—as I did more fully in Finding God in The Shack.

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I need to begin this review with some caveats. I am not any kind of expert on movies in general. Much of the time, I especially enjoy movies panned by movie critics and do not like movies that win praises from critics (and even “Oscars!”). I do not pretend to know anything about the artistic side of movies; I watch movies almost always only for entertainment. However, I sometimes also watch a movie for its message—especially about the human condition. I tend to think I see such messages embedded in movies (as in novels) that others miss. I tend to think, for example, that horror novelist Stephen King is a philosopher whose books and the movies based on them convey not-very-subtle messages about a worldview, about the meaning of life. Others do not always agree, but I am convinced of it.

The movie “The Shack” (which I put in quotation marks to distinguish it from the book whose title I put in italics—to distinguish them here) is clearly meant to convey a message and a very profound, if somewhat controversial, one. My review of the movie here will focus almost solely on that message; I claim no expertise about the artistic qualities of any movie including “The Shack.” (I will say that I enjoyed it very much, cried a little during it, thought the “cinematography”—whatever that is exactly!—was excellent and so was the acting. But what do I know about any of that?) So please do not look here for any expert commentary on the production values of “The Shack.”

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My main question, and qualm, about the movie, before viewing it, was whether it would stick closely to the book—especially in terms of its theological message. I thought the theological message of the book was very interesting, thought-provoking, somewhat troubling in places, but overall theologically correct. In Finding God in the Shack I laid out my theological critique—both positive and negative—of the book’s message. There I emphasized that I thought it a parable and not a true story in the sense of description of real events that happened in time and space. I believed then, and still believe, that it is a theological message conveyed through a story [as a parable]. I believed that I could discern certain Christian theologians’ ideas in the story even though none are mentioned specifically.

I was very pleased at how closely the movie “stuck” to the story and to the author’s theological message. One specific question I had in mind as I began viewing the movie was whether, for example, the all-important chapter in The Shack entitled “Here Come Da Judge” (Chapter 11) would be included in the movie and, if so, how. To me, anyway, it is the central chapter of the book and the events it describes and the dialogue it contains—between “Sophia” and Mack contain the main point of the story. (I realize other readers and movie viewers will disagree, but that is still my opinion.) I was surprised and pleased by the way that scene was portrayed in the movie.

Frankly, I expected the movie, like so many that deal with theological questions and issues, would “dumb down” the message of The Shack. It didn’t. The basic message of the book comes through “loud and clear” in the movie—even if much of the dialogue in the book is omitted in the movie. As any reader of the book knows, much of it consists of rather lengthy conversations between Mack and God (portrayed as three persons such that Mack sometimes has separate conversations with them). I knew going into the movie that much of that dialogue would have to be deleted or at least condensed for time’s sake. It was. My personal opinion is that no one should see only the movie! Read the book for the rest of the story and especially for the theological content of the conversations which is the “meat” of the story.

Here I am going to limit my theological analysis and critique to the movie. For my whole theological response, please read Finding God in The Shack which is still in print by InterVarsity Press.

Unlike some viewers, perhaps, I will not take the imagery literally—especially the imagery of God. Of course God is not three separate personalities—one an African-American woman (“Papa”), another a Jewish man (Jesus), and the third a young Asian woman (Sarayu or the Holy Spirit). That is not the author’s or the movie’s intention and anyone who listens closely to the three can discern that these are only forms, manifestations, taken on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the purpose of helping Mack recover his faith in them. As a historical theologian, of course, I found myself, while watching the movie, saying—to myself—“Oh, that’s sound like tritheism” and later “Oh, that sounds like modalism.” (Tritheism and modalism are historical heresies about the Trinity.) But I do not think it’s fair to impose on the imagery or the movie itself—which is clearly intended as a parable—a literal [trinitarian] interpretation.

I believe the point of the story, both in the book and in the movie, will be missed by people who focus too much on the imagery and take it literally or allow it to get in the way of hearing the message.

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The message of both the book and the movie, author Young’s message, comes through loud and clear in both if someone is willing to “get it” in spite of the possibly distracting imagery. What is that message? Well, I believe it is multifaceted but has a center. Let’s begin here with the center and work outward to the facets.

First, at its center, the story conveys the idea, promotes the belief, that God is unconditionally good and therefore can and should be trusted in spite of evil, tragedy and innocent suffering. There is an implicit “theodicy” at the center of the story. (As I explained in the viewer guide, a “theodicy” is any attempt to explain the consistency of an all-good, all-powerful God with evil, tragedy and innocent suffering in the world he created and rules over.) I suspect it may take two or more viewings of the movie, or a careful reading of the book combined with a viewing, to get it. But it is clear to me that the author and the makers of the movie are laying out for us, readers and viewers, a particular answer to the question “Why?”

The answer to that question comes through to me “loud and clear” in both the book and the movie and it will not be appreciated by “divine determinists”—those who believe God has “designed, ordained, and governs” everything that happens including sin, evil and innocent suffering. Many of them are called “Calvinists,” but Calvinists are not the only Christians who are divine determinists. To me, the center of the story of “The Shack” (and The Shack) is that sin, evil, tragedy and innocent suffering are not planned or rendered certain by God. They are foreknown by God, but they are not in any sense part of God’s will—except that he allows some of that to happen. (The book makes clear in a way I did not hear in the movie that God does intervene to stop much evil and innocent suffering but does not always for very good reasons unknown to us*.) Part of that center is that God is perfectly, unconditionally good and worthy of our trust in spite of our questions about evil and innocent suffering.

[*res - because when God created us in love, love grants to all creation full freedom to do and to will what it pleases. As such, God cannot overrule who He is (love) but must allow sin and evil "its day." The miracle is (or sovereign mystery is) that God works in the world His loving will to bring it into fellowship with Himself without disrupting or interfering with free will by overruling it. He might confront it, presage it, confound it, disquiet it, or thwart it in some way, and yet, God must be true to Himself and to His decree for creation to be fully free as much as it can be confined as it is within a sinful world. - re slater]

Much more is said about this in the book than in the movie; that is why everyone who sees the movie needs also to read the book. You cannot get the whole story, the whole message in all its fullness, from the movie alone.

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So what does God say to Mack about evil, tragedy and innocent suffering? That it’s a fallen world we live in, corrupted in every part by human forgetfulness of God and even rebellion against God—all of which comes from misuse of free will—which is itself a good gift God gave to humans for freely receiving his love and having communion with him. Free will is itself not the center of the story; it is one of the peripheral points, a facet, of the story but clearly connected with the center. Sin, evil, corruption, tragedy, innocent suffering are not God’s perfect will; they are not intended or rendered certain by God. They are permitted by God for reasons God cannot explain to creatures in a way we can fully understand. God expects us to trust his goodness.

Another facet, peripheral point of the story, but also clearly connected with the center, is that God wants to redeem every creature, especially his human creatures of whom every one he is “especially fond.” However, redemption requires cooperation; God does not redeem—which means more than only “forgive”—by coercion. Mack has to kneel [in his heart willing] with Papa and confess his lack of forgiveness and say that he is willing to forgive his worst enemy. Only then can he be redeemed in the fullest sense possible in this life; only then can he enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed in communion with God.

If the story of “The Shack” (and The Shack) were a full blown systematic theology—which it is not intended to be!—surely the author would say much more about God, sin, salvation, the afterlife, etc. So that leaves many critics of the story guessing and some of them put the worst spin possible on it and shout “heresy!” in response to things they think are implied but not expressly stated in the story. For example, one might guess that the story implies “universalism”—belief that in the future all people will be saved. It does not say that; all it says is that God loves everyone equally and that Jesus died for all people equally so that all people can be saved.

Stepping aside from the movie, for a moment, however, and going back to the book, it does say that God has already forgiven everyone and done everything possible to redeem everyone. But both the book and the movie make abundantly clear that full redemption includes reconciled relationship and not only forgiveness. To forgive does not automatically establish relationship or reconciliation. Forgiveness, God says (in both the book and the movie) simply means taking your hands off the enemy’s throat. Again, imagery. One can assume it means not hating the person but being willing to have a reconciled relationship with them if they are willing.

I left the movie thinking many things at once (and with a few tears still in my eyes). Among them were that the movie leaves out much of the book that is at least peripherally important to the message and that it also leaves out the most controversial parts of the book. (Unless one takes the imagery of God literally in which case that’s perhaps the most controversial part of the book and the movie.) The book contains much more about free will and God’s will and why God allows evil and innocent suffering—although that is never fully explained because it is alleged to be beyond human comprehension.

I plan to see the movie again; I think it is a movie that really requires more than one viewing to get it all. I have read the book several times but may read it yet again. My response to both is that this is perhaps the best Christian fiction since C. S. Lewis’s novels and that the movie does not “dumb it down” as much as I feared it would. I do not think I have ever seen a “Hollywood-made” feature movie that as clearly conveys a profound Christian message without mixing it up with alien aspects or dumbing it down to the point of being simply insipid.