All Saints: A Review

Picture an Episcopal church called All Saints in the middle of Tennessee with only a handful of congregants. Then picture a pastor who has been sent to that church for the sole purpose of shutting it down and selling the property so that a mega-store can be built on the site.

Then, unexpectedly, refugees from Burma, Christians from the persecuted Karen tribe, arrive in the area. Because their tribe had been Christianized through Anglican missionaries, they find their way to tiny All Saints.

God touches the pastor’s heart as he realizes these people need this church. They need his help to find jobs and provide for their families. Since they have been farmers, the pastor comes up with a plan to turn the church land into a working farm to sustain the refugees.

He challenges the Episcopal authorities with the vision of reaching out to the refugees. Despite meeting with stiff resistance, he persists through trials and heartaches. In the process, Christ’s love is manifested in the community, the church’s attendance grows, and the Karen Christians become part of the larger family of God at All Saints.

To top it all off, it’s a true story.

When I went to see this film, I was wondering if it could really be as good as the review I had read. We all have seen “Christian movies” that have fallen short of the mark, although well intentioned.

All Saints is that truly rare film that combines a poignant story, realistic dialogue, strong character development, professional acting, and a quality of production that is, well, quality.

I give it my highest recommendation. I urge you to see it because it is bold in its proclamation of Biblical truth, offers spiritual edification, and leaves you with the feeling that someone in the film industry “gets it.”

What a joy (and a relief) to come out of the theater with the sense that God had His hand in this endeavor.

Review: The Light Between Oceans

Not one car chase. Not one shootout. Only a glorious film that deals with conscience, the consequences of violating one’s conscience when swayed by love for another, a willingness to suffer on behalf of the one you love even when misunderstood by that loved one, and the spiritual release that comes from confession and forgiveness. Put that all together and combine it with stunning visual beauty and superb acting, and you have one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in some time.

Light Between Oceans

While I like a lot of movies—after all, my undergraduate degree was in radio, tv, and film production—only rarely do I leave a theater thinking as deeply as I did after viewing The Light Between Oceans.

Bare bones plot:

An emotionally scarred Australian man returns from WWI seeking solitude, so he takes a lonely job as the only person on a small island tending a very important lighthouse situated between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

A young woman who has lost both of her brothers in the war helps him come to grips with his war experience, they marry, and now the two of them are the only inhabitants of that island.

The marriage is healing for both of them but she suffers from two miscarriages, thereby creating emotional trauma for both. Then a small boat washes ashore. In it is a dead man and a newborn baby girl needing love and care. Do they try to find out if there is a mother somewhere or do they take the child and raise her themselves?

The decision they make leads to the litany I described above: matters of conscience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

I won’t go any further in laying out the plot. If you have been looking for a film that demonstrates the love of God and love for another, a film that forces people to grapple with heartbreaking decisions and whether to forgive, let me suggest that this is the film for you.

Christian faith is an important element in the story. Ultimate decisions are based on that faith. Needless to say, I heartily recommend The Light Between Oceans.

Review of “Hillary’s America”

Yesterday I went to see Dinesh D’Souza’s new film, Hillary’s America. I saw his previous two—2016: Obama’s America and America: Imagine the World Without Her—and all three, from my perspective, are superbly written, visually effective, professionally produced, and timely for an age living in deception.

My personal favorite is the second, America: Imagine the World Without Her, but the new Hillary film is very significant as well.

Hillary's America

Hillary’s America has two goals: trace the “hidden” history of the Democrat party; reveal the character of Hillary and the disaster we would be facing should she become president. D’Souza makes his point well on both fronts.

For me, there is no hidden history of the Democrats. I teach much of what D’Souza documents in the film. I’m sure some of my students are surprised when I show them that it was the Democrats who pushed Native Americans out of their lands, that it was the Democrats who defended slavery and segregation, and that for most of our post-Civil War history, at least until the 1960s, the majority of black Americans voted Republican.

D’Souza lays out the stark difference between Democrats and Republicans in the history of race relations in America. His documentation seems to be solid; this is not simply a partisan Republican diatribe against Democrats. As a historian, I recognized immediately the quotes used in the film (many of which I use in class also) and can say he is not using them out of context.

Goal #1 achieved.

When he then takes aim at Hillary Clinton, he again effectively uses her own words and those of her mentors (Saul Alinsky, for example) to show how her views developed and what she has become. Making the long story very short, I can say that anyone walking away from this movie thinking Hillary would be a fine president wasn’t really listening.

Goal #2 achieved.

The movie makes ludicrous the assessments of Hillary’s supporters (read: Barack Obama) that she is more ready than anyone in American history to assume the mantle of the presidency:

Most Accomplished Candidate

D’Souza clearly shows how the Clintons have always used whatever means available to promote themselves and take advantage of others. This time around, they had the DNC to act as their bouncer, making sure that Bernie Sanders never had a chance:

Crooked Ones

Not that I wanted Sanders to be the nominee, mind you, but the Clinton machine is far worse.

Then there was Bill’s sappy speech about what a great love affair their marriage has been. Is there anyone out there who really believes a word of that?

Met a Girl

They have a political marriage, pure and simple. Well, maybe not so pure. Did you notice what Bill left out of his speech?

Late Nineties

ImpeachableIn case any of you have forgotten, you can still get my book, Mission: Impeachable, on Amazon. It’s out of print now, but there are used copies available. It would be a great refresher course if you weren’t paying attention in the late nineties or you weren’t old enough to have experienced it firsthand.

As D’Souza shows, deception has been the hallmark of everything the Clintons have done. There’s no reason to believe that would change in another Clinton presidency. She definitely would be Obama’s third term, and she would be just as deceptive and as much of a liar as he has been over the past seven years. She could even use his slogan, albeit with a slight alteration:

Deceive

And who knows what else will come to light after she is elected?

Other Shoe

This brings me to the only weakness of Hillary’s America. D’Souza offers as a solution voting for the Republican candidate. Oh, how I wish I could! If only the Republicans had chosen a Republican for their nominee!

Prior to Trump’s nomination, I was really looking forward to this election because I knew that Hillary’s baggage was so great that she was eminently beatable. Now, instead, we are given the choice between two crime figures instead of one crime figure and a true conservative.

I agree with D’Souza: Hillary Clinton should never be president. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is no better. A film could be made about his life and dealings and, I’m sure, it would be just as damning.

So, thank you, Mr. D’Souza, for pointing out what we need to know about Democrats in general and Hillary in particular. However, this time around, your solution is no solution at all.

Persecution of Christians: It’s Real

Persecution of Christians worldwide seems to be increasing. China is tearing down crosses. The Islamic regions either outlaw Christian evangelism (ex., Saudi Arabia) or are dominated by radical Islamists who seek to wipe out Christianity entirely. The poster child for this new persecution, sadly enough, is Iraq, where the U.S. has expended so much effort to turn that nation into a civilized ally. As the country falls apart, and sections of it are overpowered by the latest Islamist terror organization, ISIS, Christians are becoming nearly non-existent.

Their new overlords lay out the options: either convert to Islam, pay a fine for “protection,” or leave. Those who refuse to bow to any of those options are executed.

Razor's Edge

Mosul, a city that, until recently, had 60,000 Christians, now has none. Those that refused to leave were slaughtered. This is a new genocide, but not one that seems to get the attention it deserves. Rarely, in the mainstream media, is this a feature. It’s the silent genocide, as far as the media is concerned.

Never Mind

In the midst of all the awful news, there was one bright light: the rescue of Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan, where she had been under a sentence of death for not renouncing her Christian faith. She held firm and is now safely out of that country, soon to be in the U.S. with her husband, who is an American citizen. Ibrahim sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Sudan, but apparently it was the Italians, not the American government, that took the necessary steps to get her out of the country. Another epic fail for this administration’s foreign policy, which doesn’t seem in the least focused on atrocities against Christians. Upon arriving in Italy, Ibrahim met with Pope Francis:

VATICAN-POPE-SUDAN-ISLAM-CHRISTIANITY-RIGHTS

I can only imagine the joy she felt upon her release. I pray she won’t find that type of persecution in her new home in America. However, that is not a certainty.

While Christians in the U.S. are not told to renounce their faith, they definitely are starting to feel pressures quite alien to the history and tradition of the nation. Obamacare’s attempt to force Christian organizations to fund abortions is only the beginning. President Obama’s new executive order mandating so-called non-discrimination in hiring as it relates to homosexuals is another broadside against those who hold to a strong Biblical morality. That order specifically does not exempt religious organizations.

Now, that only applies currently to those who want to receive federal funding in any way. I’ve always argued against Christian institutions taking federal funds, for fear it would lead to control over the message. Since all student loans are now coming directly from the federal government—an almost invisible change made in the early days of the Obama administration—all Christian colleges and universities may find themselves faced with a hard choice. What if the government refuses to give students any aid if they attend a college that continues to hire based on its Biblical beliefs, which includes viewing homosexuality as sinful? For me, the choice is not hard: we should never back down on the truth of God’s Word.

Are we only a few steps away from outright persecution? This seems an appropriate spot to mention a movie that has come out recently that dares to ask that question. The title is simple and to the point: Persecuted. Persecuted MovieIt’s fictional, but not far from what could easily become factual. A nationally known pastor is pressed by the government to come out in support of a bill that promotes “tolerance” of all beliefs. The catch is that it will mean a blurring of the line with respect to truth: no one can claim there is only one way to salvation.

The pastor refuses to bend the knee and finds himself in a nightmare world of false accusations; he has to flee for his life. The film has a top-notch cast, which lends itself to fine performances all around. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little box at the end, and it not only deals with government corruption but corruption within the Christian world also. I highly recommend seeing it before it disappears. It will make you think, and we are a point where God wants us to be thinking about what we would do if the movie’s scenario should become reality.

I’m not a whiner. I believe God is able to lead us through trials and through outright persecution. My main concern is that we be ready to do His will, regardless of what we will face in the future. We need to be prepared.

God Is Alive & Heaven Is Real

In an earlier post, I mentioned two movies that I hadn’t yet seen, but planned to, and that I would give my view on them after I had seen them. I’ve now had the opportunity to fit them into my schedule and would like to offer a few comments on God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real.

Let me begin by saying I deliberately didn’t read any full reviews of either film; I wanted my perception of them to be fresh, without any particular reviewer’s slant. I did hear from friends that both were worth seeing, but that’s as far as I went in preparation.

Another caveat: there is no movie that is perfect, but one must evaluate based on the overall effect after viewing. I also know that artistic tastes differ; sometimes, though, one’s artistic preferences can get in the way of a fair evaluation. My first degree was in radio, tv, and film production, so I at least have some background in judging artistic quality as well as storyline and character development.

All that said, what did I think of these two films?

God's Not Dead 2I saw God’s Not Dead on Saturday and freely admit I was reluctant to see it at all. My biggest fear was that it would be an in-your-face, awkward, and artistically inferior production that wouldn’t advance the cause of Christ, despite its best intentions. I’m glad to say my fears were unrealized. It dealt with the reality faced by thousands of Christian college students as their faith is ridiculed publicly. It answered that ridicule not by dogmatic indoctrination, but by wrestling with the most basic question of life in an academic setting: the meaning of life if God indeed is real.

Further, it did so by means of an interweaving of a number of personal stories, all culminating in the love of God reaching out to those struggling to overcome their circumstances, doubts, and even anger at their conception of God’s character. While some will undoubtedly criticize the ending as too predictable, too simplistic as the angry professor comes face to face with eternity, I can’t share their disdain. Life is short; it can end in the next minute; you never know.

Bottom line: as I left the theater, I was glad I had seen God’s Not Dead and was thankful for those who worked so hard to present the gospel message in a thought-provoking way. On a scale of ten (everyone does that now, right?), I would give it a solid eight.

Heaven Is For Real 2Then, on Sunday, I saw Heaven Is For Real. It’s based on the book of the same name, which I have not yet read. After seeing the movie, though, I now have a desire to read the account as well. Artistically, this film is superb. The acting cannot be faulted, except by people who see fault in everything. In the few comments I had seen in print ahead of time, I picked up on some criticism of the message, as if it somehow watered down the faith. I was prepared to judge it as a typical Hollywood attempt to be Christian, while falling short.

I was wrong.

As I said to my wife at the end of the movie, I was surprised and delighted at its Christ-centeredness. Jesus is not just a passing mention, and heaven is not merely some kind of white light one walks into. Moreover, the gospel message itself is played out in the drama of a family trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Authenticity pervades the entire enterprise.

The ending, for me, was nearly breathtaking. I won’t say why; I would rather you see it for yourself. What I can say is that as I walked out of the movie, I can’t remember the last time I was so inspired by the love of God and the reality of the person of Jesus. I am not exaggerating when I give a rating of ten to this film. I find it hard to believe a better representation of God’s heart can be put on a screen.

You may not agree with my assessments. That’s certainly your prerogative. But for what it’s worth, you now have my evaluations to compare with your own. Botttom line for me: the Lord was exalted in both productions, His heart was on display, and He can use that to draw people to Himself.

Movie Review: Gimme Shelter

Gimme Shelter almost didn’t make it into theaters. It was too high budget, well made, and powerful in its message for many Hollywood types. You may ask, “Why wouldn’t Hollywood want to release a movie of such high quality?” It all had to do with the theme: it has a strong pro-life message. The director, Ron Krauss, who has a solid reputation in Tinseltown, was stunned at the resistance to the film. In his words,

It’s a miracle that this film is even being released. I can’t tell you what I went through to get this film out. I spent literally almost a year pushing and pushing people to get this movie out. A lot of people in Hollywood actually went out of their way to make sure this movie would not come out. People tried to pay me off—and I just kept saying, No, no, no, no, no. And then I came across someone who was willing to help me.

The pushback is due entirely to the pro-abortion mentality that dominates the industry. It’s a story in itself. Maybe someone should make a movie about it.

Gimme Shelter-HudgensI went to see Gimme Shelter over the weekend and was deeply impressed by the portrayal of a young woman passed from one foster home to another, then caught in a hellish situation in her drug-addicted mother’s home, if you can stretch the word “home” to cover the disgusting environment into which she was dumped. The lead actress, Vanessa Hudgens, who, I discovered, is pretty well known [so much for my ability to stay abreast of pop culture] is a marvel in the role of “Apple,” the young girl who breaks away from her mother’s destructive influence. She flees to an affluent father she never knew, but neither he nor his wife can figure out what to do with her.

Upon finding out she’s pregnant, the absentee father and wife decide she should have an abortion. As she sits in the clinic, awaiting the “doctor,” she pulls out the sonogram of her unborn child and, struck by the idea of new life growing within her, races out of the clinic, away from everyone, and takes up life on the streets.

Gimme Shelter-JonesScared and threatened by everything and everyone around her on the streets, she hijacks a car, which leads to a terrible accident that puts her in the hospital. Here is where a gritty, heartbreaking film morphs into a slowly unfolding saga of redemption. James Earl Jones, playing a Catholic priest, comes to see her, eventually making a connection, and gently leads her to a Catholic shelter for pregnant, unwed mothers.

The shelter is run by a caring, yet no-nonsense, woman who has given her life to helping those in Apple’s situation. I liked the depiction of the founder of the shelter. Christian faith is everywhere to be seen in the environment, yet she is not some starry-eyed do-gooder. She knows the type of girls she deals with and is forthright with them, making sure they follow the rules, while simultaneously exhibiting love that they’ve never known before. This shelter, and others run by this woman, Kathy DiFiore, are real, not fabricated for the movie. Some of the young women at the shelter are in the movie, essentially playing themselves.

Gimmer Shelter-FraserApple doesn’t immediately take to the new environment. The film realistically shows that it may take quite a while for damaged people to warm up to those who are sincerely seeking their good. The father she never knew, played by Brendan Fraser, becomes a sympathetic figure in the end, earnestly wanting to make Apple part of his new family. Her response to that was somewhat surprising to me, but again, probably realistic.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes fact: both Fraser and Jones donated their salaries to the shelters run by Kathy DiFiore because they believe so strongly in her ministry.

I won’t try to divulge the entire story. That’s for you to find out when you go see it. And see it, you should.

Les Miserables, Whittaker Chambers, & Delayed Revelation

One of the best movies I’ve seen in some time and one of my favorite historical subjects of study come together. First, the movie.

I saw Les Misérables a couple of weeks ago and have intended to write about it. Too many other pressing topics intervened. Yet it’s still around in theaters, so if I can encourage anyone else to see it who has neglected to do so, I will have performed a public service.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it, due to its graphic depiction of prostitution and the deeply seamy side of life. Yet even in the midst of all the depravity, it was clear the filmmakers were not glorifying that life. Anne Hathaway’s performance here was heartrending, particularly with her song. No one could come away from those scenes thinking this was the “high life.”

I concluded that it was essential to, in some way, make it clear how sin dehumanizes everyone involved with it. Only in that way could the real message of the movie—the wonder of God’s grace—be so starkly realized. The presentation of the good news always must begin with the problem, which is sin and its destructiveness. The contrast between the utter selfishness of the sinfulness portrayed in the film with the self-sacrificing love of Jean Valjean is breathtaking. For me, the high point of the movie was Valjean’s death, as we are led to understand he is being received into God’s presence through the love and mercy of Christ.

I also recall that the book itself by Victor Hugo made a deep impression on Whittaker Chambers, who grew up in a household with no genuine Christian influence. Chambers, for those who don’t know, later became a communist, then broke from communism to speak prophetically about the loss of the knowledge of God in Western civilization. He found the book in the attic when he was no more than nine years old, and it opened a new world for him.

I read and reread Les Misérables many times in its entirety. It taught me two seemingly irreconcilable things—Christianity and revolution. It taught me first of all that the basic virtue of life is humility, that before humility, ambition, arrogance, pride and power are seen for what they are, the stigmata of littleness, the betrayal by the mind of the soul, a betrayal which continually fails against a humility that is authentic and consistent.

I agree completely. That is what stood out in the movie as well—the centrality of humility to counter all the pride of man. Chambers continued:

I scarcely knew that Les Misérables was teaching me Christianity, and never thought of it that way, for it showed it to me, not as a doctrine of the mind, but in action in the world, in prisons, in slums, among the poor, the sick, the dying, thieves, murderers, harlots and outcast, lonely children, in the sewers of Paris and on the barricades of revolution. Its operation did not correspond to anything I knew as Christian in the world about me. But it corresponded exactly to a need I felt within myself.

My only quibble is that I don’t see the Christian worldview in the revolutionaries of the era; they were more incipient Marxists than Christians. But that is a quibble in comparison to the overall value of the dominant Christian theme. I always rejoice when the Christian message can be conveyed in a major production such as this, in a film that is not meant to be self-identified as a Christian movie, but one that reaches beyond to a much wider swath of the population. Chambers didn’t know he was being taught Christianity, and though that revelation was delayed many years, eventually he came to grips with the reality of God in his life. May the same happen to moviegoers today who are just seeking a good story. May the central message of that story—salvation through Jesus Christ—come as a revelation to them also, even if delayed.