The Common Good

Culture Watch

'If I Were White, I'd Be Better Off'

"I bet if I were white then I'd be better off … Isn’t that true?” - Idris

A 9-year-old African-American boy lay on the couch, rubbing his head, and told his dad that if he just went to another school, life would be better. If he were just white, life would be better. He clarified, “I’m not saying I want to … but isn’t that right? That’s what everyone else is saying.”

When a 9-year-old boy can see the sad reality of white privilege and understand that the color of your skin is what defines you in our society, we have a serious problem. We can talk about the progress we have made to move civil rights forward over the past 50 years, and many in my generation are grateful for this movement, but we have a long, long way to go.

According to the Black Boys Report, the high school graduation rate for black males is at 52 percent, while white students graduate at a rate of 78 percent. As a nation, we are proud of our success and power, yet our education statistics do not predict the kind of achievement that we expect for the future of our society. In the midst of a major demographics shift, our nation can no longer afford to accept the growing education gap that has become normative in recent years.

American Promise is a documentary following the lives of two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school. The boys attend Dalton, a private school in the upper east side of Manhattan. As Idris and Seun make their way through years of schooling, the film chronicles the truths of our education system and the lack of social and emotional support offered to students of color in America’s schools. The filmmakers, Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, are the parents of Idris. Through their son’s journey, the hardships of being an African-American boy growing up in today’s society are documented, and struggles of parenting are examined through an entirely new lens.

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The (Anti)Gospel of Francis Underwood

"Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don’t waste a breath mourning ... For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted." - Francis Underwood

So ends the Shakespearean soliloquy at the end of the first episode of House of Card's highly anticipated second season.

Underwood lives by a very clear code of ethics: Get to the top and do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. For him, the end always justifies the means. And so, although it certainly made me wince to see what happens in Season 2's opening episode, I was left in awe at the show’s brutal honesty of what a life purely committed to power potentially looks like.

Some scenes perhaps strike us viewers as far from reality (Washington can't really be that bad, can it?!?), but other vignettes are far more plausible. Consider Underwood’s commendation of a congresswoman for making the cold, calculated decision to “do what needed to be done” by wiping out entire villages with missile strikes.

Her “ruthless pragmatism” merely makes Underwood smirk.

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Rick Warren, Others, Rent Theaters for Premiere of 'Son of God'

Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, plan to rent every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s upcoming Jesus film Son of God, on Feb. 27.

The unusual move reflects the confidence Christian leaders have in Burnett and Downey’s work in the wake of The Bible, a hit miniseries on the History channel.

The Son of God, an adaption from The Bible series, opens in theaters nationwide Feb. 28.

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The Lego Movie's Got Religion

Legos got religion? Who knew?

The Lego Movie, well-reviewed and making money by the brickyard, builds its story upon religious and moral themes. They don’t all snap together securely, but that’s in keeping with the rest of the film.

Spoiler alert: I’ll give away nothing that you wouldn’t get from the reviews. There’s a late plot twist, however, that affects everything we thought we understood about the story. Anybody who reveals that twist, at least in the first few weeks, deserves to be extruded in molten plastic. I’ll tip as little as possible.

Right off the bat: It’s as good as the reviews say. The story takes elements from The MatrixHarry PotterKung Fu PandaLord of the Rings, the good Star Wars movies, Toy Story 2 and other recent cultural touchstones and blends them into plot slurry. Which is not all that surprising for a modern kids’ movie.

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The Hidden Plague the World Has Missed

When we think about the poor of the world our thoughts often drift toward starvation, unsafe water, malaria, and lack of medical attention. These thoughts will likely move us to taking action in a variety of ways. We give farming skills and equipment, we drill wells, we provide mosquito netting, and doctors volunteer their time to help treat the poor of the world.

All of these things can be helpful and beneficial but there is a deeper, much darker, problem below the surface of poverty. The problem is violence. Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, recently released a new book titled The Locust Effectwhich documents the plight of the poor in developing countries.

What benefit is it to provide schooling for girls that refuse to attend because many of them get raped when they attend? How can a micro-loan help a father provide for his family when he gets thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit and can't afford to bribe the law enforcement? How is a mother supposed to care for her children when her home is taken away from her by her husband's family once he dies?

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What 'Frozen' Teaches us about Power, Privilege, and Community

Just as polar vortices sweep through America, Elsa, one of the main characters in the latest Disney princess movie, Frozen, unleashes her icy power in the fictional kingdom Arendelle, across theaters everywhere. In addition to delighting progressive audiences by satirizing Disney’s own trope of “marriage at first sight,” the story compels viewers, young and old, to find courage to be their true selves. The Oscar-nominated signature song, “Let It Go,” poignantly expresses the sentiment of letting go of fears, secret pains, and pretense. Fans of the song, from celebrities to little girls, have been belting the tune theatrically anywhere from kitchens to car rides to the Internet.

G.K. Chesterton says,

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

A good story is more than a pleasurable experience — it empowers us to live a changed life. Frozen is filled with beloved characters and catchy melodies, but also has much to teach us about power, privilege, and community.

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The Prophets of Sundance

In days of old, God used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention. Today’s prophets are often the truth-telling artists, singers, songwriters, and filmmakers whose modern version of “Thus sayeth the Lord” bursts forth in a stunning, sensual explosion of sight, sound, and touch.

They get our attention, and their prophetic word is visceral. It often goes beneath the rational radar and it can disturb more than it comforts. The annual Sundance Film Festival is like a tribe huddled around a campfire listening to the stories. These stories function like burning bushes, as prophetic calls to action. These films are meant not just to be watched, but to change us and, through us, to change the world.

Here are some of the messages I heard at Sundance 2014.

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God, Same-Sex Marriage, and 33 Weddings at the Grammys

Call me old fashioned, but our culture hit a new low at the Grammys when 33 couples were married. Some of them were gay and lesbian couples.

Indeed, it was a bad day for marriage.

First, Macklemore sang "Same Love," then Queen Latifah officiated a wedding for 33 couples, and then Madonna sang her 1986 single "Open Your Heart."

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Macklemore’s Same Love. I love its pro-same-sex marriage message because of my Christian faith, not in spite of it. I’ve written about why Christians should embrace same-sex marriage herehere, and here, but Macklemore’s theological argument in the song is as good as any.

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Walk a Mile in My Shoes

CNN reports on Usoni , a futuristic television drama produced in Kenya that is about reversed immigration. The show depicts Europe in 2063, where life has turned unlivable after a deadly series of natural and economic disasters.

Europeans are desperately seeking a way to get to a livable continent south of them: Africa. The hardships in making the trip are unfathomable, and once the immigrants arrive, they are unwelcome, harassed, and rejected. The story follows a young couple, Ophelia and Ulysse, who are seeking to make their way with their unborn child to the land of promise.

Yes, the comparisons today to those seeking to immigrate to Europe (with obvious parallels to America) are intentional. Marc Rigaudis, the Kenya-based French filmmaker who created the program, is making a point to help us walk in the shoes of those whom we know the Bible calls “aliens and strangers.”

The chilling trailer depicting people like me being treated as illegal immigrants is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

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In 'David and Goliath,' Gladwell Provides Fresh Perspective on the Underdog

What if what you thought were advantages were actually disadvantages? And what you thought were disadvantages ended up being what actually makes people successful?

So embarks best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell of BlinkThe Tipping PointOutliers, and What the Dog Saw in his new book: David and Goliath. In the same clear, concise style that made his other books so intriguing, Gladwell challenges yet another widespread assumption — that being the underdog tends to make one an underdog forever.

Instead he argues that being the underdog can give one the upper hand. In his signature approach, Gladwell supports his hypothesis with a series of narratives, from the classic case of David and Goliath to the forgiveness one Canadian Mennonite woman was able to work towards after her daughter was murdered. Like his previous books, David and Goliath is both entertaining and thought provoking and obliges readers reflect over their lives and reconsider personal “disadvantages” that actually required them to learn skills they otherwise might not have had.

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