The Common Good

Culture Watch

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.

+Continue Reading

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.

+Continue Reading

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.

+Continue Reading

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.

+Continue Reading

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.

+Continue Reading

Marc Chagall’s Jesus Paintings Focus of Jewish Museum Exhibit

At a moment when the world is flush with new books and ever-evolving interpretations of Jesus, one of the last century’s artistic masters is providing art lovers with a striking take on the first-century religious figure.

The first U.S. exhibition exploring the “darker works” of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) shows a Jewish artist obsessed with Jesus.

Chagall: Love, War, and Exile,” at The Jewish Museum in New York showcases the work of the Russian-French artist during World War II as he tried to make sense of a world gone mad.

Of particular interest are paintings depicting the crucified Jesus — depictions that are often read as metaphors not only for war but the particular expressions of Jewish suffering and persecution in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.

+Continue Reading

Three Worlds Collide in 'Jerusalem,' the City and the Film

The old city of Jerusalem is smaller than one square mile. In 5,000 years of recorded human history there have been 180 conflicts around the city. It has been conquered 44 times, and completely destroyed twice. The story of conflict in this city is clearly not a new story.

When the producers of Jerusalem, a new movie for IMAX and other giant screen theaters, decided to approach the topic, they wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the long history.

“Jerusalem is a city in conflict,” said Taran Davies, one of the producers of Jerusalem, at a recent screening of the movie. “We wanted a new way to think about it. This [movie] is more a celebration.”

+Continue Reading

As I Walk Through the Sudden Valley: A Psalm, a Prayer

Author’s note: If you know me, you’d know that that I think the most important thing (of the things we worship ) is Jesus. And you’d also know that I love Arrested Development, with almost the same type of devotion I typically reserve for God. As a former “professional  church lady,” crafting prayers was right in my wheelhouse. So I’ve composed a psalm entirely out of Arrested Development quotes based on the ACTS style of prayer, because it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to God. And also … not Aunt Lindsay’s nose.

Oh God. (AD 2:13)

I love you. (AD 1:7)

We all must seek forgiveness. I’ve always tried to lead a clean life. My brother and I were like those Biblical brothers, Gallant and, um … Goofuth. (AD 2:14)

+Continue Reading

Seven Top Reads of 2013

The past few months have flown by in true whirlwind fashion (my co-worker Katie aptly describes the professional whirlwind here). And as the hours tick down to the end of 2013, I find myself facing a bit of a personal whirlwind, surrounded by boxes, bins and far more hangers of clothes than I’m happy to admit. I am thick in the middle of a move, in what I’m calling my boomerang return to D.C. and Sojourners, after a three-year hiatus in the great Northeast.

As I pack up all my belongings, it’s becoming clear that books dominate an absurd amount of bins and boxes — turns out I have a penchant for the printed word (if moving isn’t a compelling argument for a Kindle, I surely don’t know what is). Therefore, it feels appropriate and timely to reflect on which of these titles affected me most this past year. As the director of Major Gifts (and newest member of the team), I’ve been particularly consumed with thinking through resource distribution, stewardship, and the power of the purse, so it is with this lens that I share my top reads of 2013.

+Continue Reading

A Year in Music

This year I have been trying something new to me. I’m trying my hands at a little music or concert review. It’s a chance to experiment with this nascent methodology I’m developing. The posts have been some of the most commented upon on Facebook and even on the blog. Thanks for everyone’s engagement!

Though not the beginning, certainly the central review is this duo about Mumford and Sons and eschatological banjosCathleen Falsani was in town and we had a great time at these shows. These concerts are all about the eschaton, transcendence, immanence, and banjos. There are always banjos. I know.

+Continue Reading