Monday, April 26, 2010

'Precious' Review

This weekend I finally saw Precious, the movie put out by Oprah and Tyler Perry. I have wanted to see this movie for a while based on the powerful trailer, positive reviews and what I have heard about the story. All I can really say is, WOW. What an amazingly powerful, sobering, eye-opening, hopeless, yet hope-filled movie.

One of the things that I really appreciated was that, while it could have been far more graphic, I felt like this movie was honest enough to give everyone a taste of what life is like for far too many. This movie is not based on a true story, however this movie is the true story of far too many people.

You experience the pain, hurt, loneliness, sadness and anger of the main character and by the end of the movie, her victory is your victory because you feel like you have gone on this journey with her.

The acting is great, the story is powerful and I think it is a must-see movie that tells a story that needs far more attention that it gets.

In the final 10 minutes of the movie there is a scene in a social worker's office with Monique and it is some of the most raw, passionate, honest and amazing acting that I have ever seen. It is that scene that has stuck with me the past couple days since watching the movie and one that will almost certainly evoke emotion from just about anyone.

I don't think that you can watch a movie like this and not wrestle with some of the truths and thought that this movie addresses.

Here is what I have been wrestling with:

I think that there were 3 real takeaways that I got from this movie in regards to "how in the world do we even approach this problem?" I will try and go into these without giving away too much of the movie for those who haven't seen it.

A) It has to start with changing the culture. There are many symptoms of this problem, and you can treat them. However, if you never get to the core of the issue you will treat symptoms forever. We need to become a culture that values life - all life. In a world where some people are viewed as less important, it is not a far step to justify poor treatment of those people. If all are created equal, all deserve to be treated equal and until we get back to valuing people just because of who they are - not because of what they have done, how they look, what they wear or where they live - we will continue to battle these issues.

B) Having the right people in the right places. In this story there are 2 key people who, despite all of her faults, see something of value in Precious. Both of them are teachers and they take the steps that they can to help her. One teacher in particular, in an Alternative School, puts in the time and energy to connect with Precious. As their relationship develops you begin to see this teacher as so much more. She isn't there just to collect a paycheck, she isn't there to check off the days till retirement, she is there because she genuinely believes that what she does has an impact on these kids. By believing in them, challenging them and building that relationship, these kids who had very little hope begin to believe that maybe there is something more. If hope dies, life dies. We need people in positions of influence in kids' lives who really care. Can each teacher take the time to develop deep relationships with every student? No. But I do believe that each teacher can at least pass on the message that no matter where you come from, what kind of crap you have dealt with or how hard your road has been, there is a potential in each kid that can overcome all of that. Strong adults speaking life into the lives of our youth is a needed necessity.

C) Have a soft place to land. This may have been the biggest part that stuck out to me. When Precious gets out of her situation she has no where to go. If there is someone who is in an abusive situation and they need to get out, they need to know that there is somewhere that they can go NOW. Getting out of that sort of situation can be hard enough, we should try and make their landing as soft as possible. We should have well-funded and staffed shelters and organizations in our communities available to anyone who really needs them. If the road ahead is just as dark as the road behind, you will never move forward.


Some practical Ideas:

* If you have a local shelter or organization that deals with abused women, go buy some new toys and donate them there so that if a mother comes in with her child, the landing for the child can be as soft as possible. If you have kids, why not donate your child's used clothes to one of these shelters? Many people arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their back and your items can make a big difference in their transition.
* If you have a "runaway shelter" or homeless teen organization, volunteer some time there. Maybe you can be the adult that shows them that the future can be different.

Finally, go rent Precious, if you haven't seen it. It is out on DVD and BluRay. It may be painful to watch at times but there is a truth in the story that we should all see.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Be In The World

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. "

Matthew 5:14-16 - The Message

A common phrase in faith communities is to "Be in the world, but not of it." This phrase is normally used to make the point that we need to be careful to not be corrupted by the things of this world. The emphasis is almost always placed on the last half of the phrase, "not of it."

I believe that this phrase has contributed to the "christian bubble." This is where we do as much as we can to NOT interact with the world. We try and only interact with the "holy" and never with the "secular." We have our own radio stations so that we don't get drug down by the worlds' music and we have our own bookstores so that we can buy our Bibles without having to walk past the "evil magazine rack" at Barnes & Noble and we place ourselves in the "safest" most "moral" communities that we can find so that we don't have to deal with the realities of this world.

We spend so much time and energy separating ourselves from this world and "not being of it" that we completely forget the part that is, I believe, the most important part of that phrase - BE IN THE WORLD!

The Bible says that no one lights a candle and puts it under a basket, instead you place it where everyone can see it. The light always shines brightest in the darkest of places, yet we try and stay huddled around all of the other candles where it is safe.

Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world" and I think that he is exactly right. We can not be the change that we want to see in the world if we are not "in the world."

Here are three great ways to "be in the world":
* Volunteer your time. You don't always have to volunteer at "christian" organizations. We should go into the world, not always expect the world to come to us or our organizations. Look towards local organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, local Senior Centers, Food Banks, Soup Kitchens and things like that. Also, play to your strengths. If you are artistic, volunteer to help with children's art classes at a local studio. If you love sports, volunteer to help coach local youth sports. These are great ways to use your time to make a difference in our world.
* Be strategic with your financial resources. My wife and I learned of a need a few years ago at a local organization: they needed winter coats for the homeless and working poor that they serve. We obviously couldn't afford dozens of new coats but we did learn that a local thrift store had "99-cent Mondays" on certain tagged items. So we would go in and find all of the good coats that they had for 99 cents, and for less than $20.00 we would have a couple big bags full of coats to donate! This ended up being an inexpensive way that we could help a local organization and make an impact in people's lives.
* Get involved in your community. Every town has community-focused events and activities, this is a great place to get involved. You can "be in the world" while contributing to making our communities a better place! Be creative, there are literally hundreds of ways that you can give your life away in most cities.

Just go. Live your life. Certainly be smart about the situations you put yourself in, but don't view this phrase as a call to separate yourself from the world. Instead, view it as a call to live in, and impact, the world. Your impact will be felt and your light will shine!

Now go and BE IN THE WORLD!


If you would like to read more on this topic a great resource is Reject Apathy, a new project that has been launched by the team at Relevant Magazine. You can learn more here: REJECT APATHY

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

People Matter

This week, Contemporary Christian Music artist, Jennifer Knapp, announced in an interview to Christianity Today that she is gay. If you look at the comments on message boards and Facebook pages it is easy to see that the backlash from her announcement has already started.

This post isn't going to be about the Homosexuality vs. The Church issue, although this is an issue that I care deeply about and may blog about later. This is going to be focused more on the church's reaction to announcements like this and to people who are different than us.

First, and most important:

The church should be known
as a group of people who run
TO people,
not FROM them.
Too often our response to announcements like this has been to distance ourselves, turn from the person and ignore the issue, when our response should be to draw near to the person and not be afraid to address the issues and answer the tough questions.

If people matter to God, they should matter to us. The same God who made and cares for me, made and cares for you. Jesus said that the most important things are simple: Love God & Love People. He didn't say "Love God and Love other middle-class white people who drive similar cars and also like Coldplay." We need to learn to love without limits. Love the single mother, love the gay couple, love the guy who takes the bus to church, love the person who has made hairstyle choices that differ from your own and love the person who decided that 20 tattoos would be better than 1. In fact, the person in church who seems the most different from you, that you feel the most awkward around, is probably the person you should get the closest to and love the most.

We are the representation of Christ in the world. People can disagree with our message and beliefs, but they should never be able to doubt our love and compassion for people.

The church should be a place that says, "No matter who you are, no matter what your situation or baggage, this is a safe place and we are here for you." Our churches need to be a Sanctuary for hurting, lost, confused people and not a Social Club for the comfortable. It should be a place where people from all walks of life, nationalities, income-levels and sexual orientation feel welcomed by Christians and challenged by Christ. A place where we can gather, admit our need and be changed in the presence of a God who is passionate about people -- ALL people.

And Jennifer Knapp, you are welcome to come to church with me anytime!


Welcome to Faith.Life.Media!

Langston Hughes once said,
"The only prerequisite for writing is having something to say."
That is why I am starting this blog. I have much to say. Probably too much. Enjoy.