Little Hope Was Arson: What Does Forgiveness Look Like? (Movie Review)

As a pastor, I can’t imagine the phone call in the middle of the night, the call to tell me that my church has burned to the ground. I know the building isn’t the main thing, but it stands for something, doesn’t it? It’s something valuable to the people who’ve grown there, who’ve worshipped there, who’ve done good for others through the walls. And yet… “I’m reminded that church is not just a building but it’s a group of people who are joined together by faith,” Governor Rick Perry says at the press conference for one of the ten churches burned down in East Texas over a month in 2010. In this documentary, we see how the people of the churches, their communities, and those who come in contact with the tragedies respond to the arson- and what it means for church to be about the people of God.

Of course, it should be pointed out that there was a full-on investigation of the fires, and the whodunit is downright engrossing, even while we psychoanalyze people’s reactions to the fire. We see the FBI agent tell us that the only other times they pulled in another team were at the bombings in Oklahoma City and at the Pentagon. This is heavy stuff! Watching the different police investigators interviewed, seeing their frustration in previous footage and current videos, it’s powerful. But the interviews with one of the arsonists’ older sister? It’s almost overwhelming.

Around a quarter of the way into the movie, we hear the names of the two men convicted of the arsons, Daniel McAllister and Jason Bourque, 21 and 19 respectfully. We meet their caregivers, the people who provided them with food, lodging, and theological education, who have a diversity of responses to the crimes, the men, and the way the legal proceedings play out (Bourque’s mother is like a movie character). And we hear their potential motivations from other people, the things that led them to the arson, and finally from the men themselves. It’s unnerving in its evaluation of the men, various drugs, grief, family, religion, mental illness, and the crimes, and the processing of the crimes once the men were in custody.

It was a well-done documentary, which is what I’d expect from executive producer Bryan Storkel (Holy Rollers, Fight Church). It’s one that will leave you questioning your own thoughts about the church as a whole- one of the ways it poked me was the number of church members who told the filmmakers that they hoped God would be able to forgive the men… but that they wouldn’t be able to. So sad. But the flip side is the pastors who reach out to the men, who try to realize forgiveness in a real way. Ultimately, it’s this movement, from the church to the arsonists, that proves to be powerful, only slightly less moving than the parents of murdered children reaching out to the murderers.

This is an intense film, whether you’re a Christian or not, because it challenges us to consider what love and forgiveness look like, what causes us to lose our way from what we know is right, and ultimately, how we can change when our lives have sunk that low. Watch and consider your life: do you forgive? Can you?

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The Prophets’ Story: The Refs Don’t Make The Rules (Sunday’s Sermon Today)

I am a rules guy. As a kid, I was obsessed with ‘right’ versus ‘wrong,’ and saw the world in stark black and white. The older I get, the more I recognize the spectrum of colors ranging from white to black with various shades of grey in-between. (I also recognize that there is only really one white space in the form of God and that I can’t quite comprehend the shades of black in the form of human depravity. But that’s for another day.) But the truth is, that when it comes to sports, I tend to be very… by the book.

The rules of a sport determine the way that the game should be played. It’s obvious that my beloved sports of football and basketball would be quite different if Mixed Martial Arts moves were allowed or even encouraged. Swimming would be significantly different (better?) if Roller Derby skills were applied. Baseball would take on a different tone if the pitcher actually tried to hit the batter and the batter actually tried to hit the ball instead of preparing for a walk. Golf would take longer if you were credited for taking more strokes to get to the ball in the hole (instead of being the one sport on record to encourage the ‘least’ of anything). And, of course, bowling would be more exciting if the bowlers were heckled instead of being treated like visiting dignitaries.

But the rules are the rules for a reason, and when applied correctly, they level the playing field so that everyone has a chance to succeed (even if they can’t all win). And in most sports, because human nature requires it, there are those poor people who are paid, chosen, or obligated to serve as referees, umpires, judges, etc. to enforce the rules. [The NFL even has a grand poobah of this, called the Commissioner, but he currently stinks at his job.] These officials are instructed to make sure that the rules, and to a greater degree, the spirit of the law, is enforced to keep the sanctity of the game and its players safe, fair, healthy, etc.

Still, we, the fans, don’t always like how these officials interpret the rules, or make their calls about how the competitions are played. I’ve been told by several friends who are officials (who will remain nameless, but a few of whom are actually pastors, too) that I won’t really understand until I serve as an official myself. That my understanding of the rules won’t be complete, and I won’t understand what it’s like to be a ref/judge/umpire until I’ve actually done it myself. Because they don’t make the rules, they just enforce them.

Which brings us to our various texts today, a whirlwind through some of the prophets of the Old Testament. Prophets were the people who spoke for God, on his behalf, bringing words of criticism, comfort, judgment, and hope to God’s people and those who ruled them. The prophets were merely human, but they spoke on God’s behalf, unlike those who speak on street corners bringing judgment and seem to have lost all sight of God’s love.

These prophets were motivated by the love of God and by God’s own direction, and told God’s people harsh things from time to time. But they weren’t God. They weren’t the maker of the rules by which God’s people were to articulate their lives. They were merely the ones delivering the news, enforcing the rules, reminding the people of the covenant between God and humanity.

In Jeremiah 1, we read the prophet’s call story, including his reticence based on his age, and God’s rejoinder that Jeremiah will speak God’s words, setting him “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” We could get caught up in the “thou shall not” of Jeremiah’s mission, until we dig a little deeper.

For as long as I can remember, Jeremiah 29:11-14 has been “my Bible verse” (I know it’s three verses!) “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.‘”

God wants his people to know that he has a plan and that it’s for their good, but it comes in the midst of their banishment, their occupation, by an enemy country. They’ve been banished because they worshipped idols, because they turned away from the one true God and God let them reap the wind of their decisions. Still, God reminds them through Jeremiah that when they seek him and pray to him with their whole heart that he will hear them and bring them back.

But in addition to the crime and punishment, in addition to the correction the prophets handed down, there are message after message of hope, like the one found in Micah 4:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
our God for ever and ever.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will gather the lame;
I will assemble the exiles
and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
those driven away a strong nation.

Whoa! That’s an Old Testament prophecy about what the end times will look like, and it doesn’t sound at all like crashing planes and Nic Cage or Kirk Cameron. It sounds pretty awesome to me!

There will be no more weapons because no one will fight.

Everyone will have enough, their own space, their own place.

Fear won’t exist anymore. 

Everyone will know God’s love and love God in return.

The left out, forgotten about, grieving and lame will be comforted. 

Friends, I don’t know if that’s heaven, but it sounds amazing. And we can hang our hat on it coming true because God’s words keep being proved true, because the God who promises these things already promised other truths in our lives and in history. It’s just one more thing we can see in the culmination of God’s plan for us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to Earth as a baby and lived a life like ours, taught, healed, and forgave sins, and died on the cross. And then rose again. But all of that was prophesied by these Old Testament prophets years before.

In Isaiah 53, the prophet tells Israel that the Messiah, who we know was Jesus, would:

-be despised and rejected by men, and would suffer (Isaiah 53:3)

-be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins, punished for what we’ve done- and by his wounds we’re healed. (53:5)

-be oppressed and punished but he would not fight back (53:7)

-be treated like a criminal and bear our sins (53:12)

If you want a more detailed prediction, check out Zechariah, where Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, and the way he’s received is foretold:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

The prophets didn’t always get to see it happen, didn’t get to see the payoff. Like officials, they don’t get to celebrate the win but they make sure the game is played the way it’s supposed to. So along with the hope they deliver from God, the prophets’ messages about who we’re supposed to be still hold truth.

Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Jeremiah 7:5-7: “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”

Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

These prophets of the Old Testament condemned selfish behavior, condemned proud and unthankful hearts. They promoted humility and mercy and justice in a time when those qualities were few and far between. And they warned of the consequences for God’s people when they failed to be both obedient and compassionate.

As we approach Thanksgiving for another year, I pray that we will reflect on how we are richly blessed. We still hunger and thirst, we still struggle with sickness and tragedy. But we have been put here for the purpose of loving God and loving our neighbor. We have been blessed with the knowledge that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and we are freed by that knowledge and faith to move forward, in hope, toward the kingdom of God which the prophets foretold.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will reflect on the words God has spoken into your heart, about truth, about love, about compassion. May your heart be full of gratefulness and praise, and in the words of Amos, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” We live in an ever-changing world but the words of God, the encouragement of the prophets still hold true.

So what are we supposed to do about it?

I realize that I have more than most of the rest of the world. In fact, the poorest person here today falls inside the top ten percent of the world’s population. Think about that for a minute: no matter what you think you don’t have, you have more than ninety percent of the rest of the world. [If you're reading this online, then statistically, that puts you in the top five percent.]

Readers of my blog already know from Monday’s post that I’ve issued a cry for help, a prayer, a Hail Mary to everyone who will get involved with a campaign I’m calling (loosely) “Coats for Christmas.” From now through December 10, we’re going to accept coats (new ones, gently used ones), toys (new ones, gently used ones), and financial contributions toward Christmas dinner for families in need.

We have fifty-one children between one and fourteen who we’ve submitted for help through Toys for Tots. We’ve received donations from people in Rhode Island, Tennessee, Indiana, Richmond, and Florida of coats and financial help. But this is our church, and if we’re to be the church, if justice and mercy will roll down like rivers because God is moving in us…

Then it’s up to us to live out the words of the prophets.

Be thankful. Give back. Be the church!

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What If All The Kids Had Coats? Praying For A Christmas Miracle (A Mustard Seed Musing)

The little girl came into church with her two brothers and her two older cousins. I noticed she was shivering, and that her hoodie looked pretty threadbare. The weather has turned for the colder, and it’s only supposed to get worse over the next three months. It struck me suddenly that for all of the work we were doing as a church, that it still felt like we weren’t doing enough. But what could we do when the kids don’t have coats… when suddenly there are dozens of them?

Our little church has changed mightily over the last two years, and even more dramatically over the last three months. You can argue about the reasons but a lot of it has to do with a woman named Kathy.

Kathy has a deal with the kids in her neighborhood: if they meet her at the playground at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, she’ll get them to church. A year ago, five kids were showing up. In the last two months… twenty to thirty of them show up at a time. From dual-working parent homes, from single-parent homes, from grandparent homes, from bunking-with-a-cousin homes. They come hungry, and we feed them. They come searching, and we try to point out the answers. They come without Bibles, and we provide Bibles. They come without hope of Christmas, and we’re applying to Toys for Tots!

But what about coats for dozens of kids, just the ones we know about, forty to fifty kids?

I lay awake last night and I wondered, if someone reading this today would email or message me, and go “I know who you should talk to.”** Or if five people would read it and go “I have some Christmas money I want you to buy a coat for a kid with.” Or if someone in one of the five countries that reads this blog every week would start a mission to raise coats or food or whatever for the kids in their neighborhood. [Even if you can’t do something, please share this…]

So I wrote this down, and I’m praying over it. Praying that God will use it, and that God will make a miracle out of our problem opportunity. This year, I’m praying for Christmas miracles.

I’m praying that we’ll find coats for the kids of the neighborhood.

I’m praying that we’ll raise the resources for turkey dinners for these families.

I’m praying that we’ll qualify for Toys for Tots.

I’m praying that God would introduce his son Jesus to someone’s heart in a whole new way.

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it is vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.–T.E. Lawrence

Today, I’m day-dreaming.

Update: Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, messaged me, and donated so far. It was pointed out that follow-up info here would be helpful, so here goes [if you have questions, you can leave them here or message me on Facebook.]

Mail a check (or a coat): Blandford UMC c/o Rev. Jacob Sahms, P.O. Box 1686, Petersburg VA 23805 

Electronic Donation:  Click here to lend your support to: Coats 4 Christmas and make a donation at pledgie.com !

Donation of Coats: We have boys and girls, from age one to age 17. You donate it; we’ll put it to use. 

Donations of… : Yes, we’re taking toys, canned goods, and if you’re local, a frozen turkey or chicken you can’t use this Christmas. 

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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Cynthia Zamperini-Garris On Unbroken, Her Father, & His New Book

ZamperiniWhat would you do if you were lost at sea? Imprisoned and beaten in an enemy war prison? Losing the love of your life because of your own addiction and anger?

In 1949, Louie Zamperini heard Billy Graham preach, and it put all of those experiences in a different perspective. It’s those perspectives he shares in his new book, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, out tomorrow. In 2003, the World War II vet, Olympian, and former P.O.W. collaborated with David Rensin on his autobiography, Devil at My Heels, years before Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken would be turned into the upcoming Angelina Jolie-directed drama. The two now deliver a series of anecdotes tracing from Zamperini’s childhood to his life of service, closing with insights from his children, Cynthia Zamperini-Garris and Luke Zamperini. Zamperini-Garris was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on her father’s new book and her own experience growing up with a man who is already legendary to some – and will be worldwide by the new year.

“With the book, which is our father’s last message to the world, I hope people will have an even deeper sense of his humor, his adventurous spirit, and mostly his deep and never wavering faith and commitment to God,” says Zamperini-Garris. “With the movie, I hope people leave the theaters inspired by his unbreakable spirit, to face their own troubles and challenges with race, and discover the healing power of forgiveness.”

Having blown through Unbroken one day at the beach this summer, and eagerly devouring Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In as soon as it arrived, I had seen how Zamperini handled so many tense, tragic situations with humor and proved time and time again to be ready for anything. I was intrigued to hear whether the comedic or practical sides of her father was evident as a child. “As far back as I can remember he was making me laugh by pulling funny stunts or teasing me. The fact that he was always prepared to deal with stuff that came up, from a stubbed toe or skinned knee (mine, many times) to rescuing a stranded mountaineer or drowning child (me again) meant that I listened to all of his advice.”

“I remember the very first thing I learned from him was how to make a bandaid stick better. Want to know? By keeping your fingers pressed on the adhesive part a few moments longer so that your body heat will cause it to stick better. Not revelatory, but good, sound advice for a little girl.”

“When I had the mumps and my cheeks were so swollen and sore, it was hard to look in the mirror. Dad took his comb and combed my hair over my cheeks and put my Minnie Mouse hat on my head so I’d look pretty. He did things like that. He was so kind.”

But did Luke and Cynthia know who Zamperini was to so many people? About how he’d been a headline-grabbing athlete; how he’d been shot at, abused, and imprisoned; how he’d met Jesus? “My father bought our home and put food on the table by the telling and retelling of his amazing life story so I was well aware of what he had been through. Not the horrors but the general story. I was incredibly proud of him and felt, rightly so, that he could do anything. I was only an infant when he was suffering with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] so I have no memories of that unhappy father. Rather I remember him as lighthearted, loving, and caring, because of his ability to let the torments of his past go once he gave himself to the Lord.”

“It made all the difference in his life. It allowed him to have a life, plain and simple. I shudder to think about his life, my mother’s life, my life had he not converted. [My parents] were very different personalities, but their shared faith and love for each other allowed them to overcome all obstacles.”

That conversion not only turned Zamperini’s life around, and saved his marriage to the first Cynthia of his life, it set up the Zamperini household for a life of faith. “I accepted Christ as a child and had a very deep and comforting faith,” Zamperini-Garris says. “My brother and I attended Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood where our parents attended church. I felt that Jesus was like a third parent. Someone who would be there for me. Love me. Protect me. It was lovely to have that.”

I wondered what kind of impact the film version by Angelina Jolie had on Zamperini who died earlier this year, and what the legacy of his life and work would be? Zamperini had done tremendous work with youth, especially those battling with addiction and criminal activity, but how would a larger audience react? “[The film] gave an old soldier’s life so much meaning. When others who suffered through the war and performed heroic deeds ‘faded away,’ he was greatly appreciated and lauded near the end of his life. Letters came from all over the country from people suffering with terrible illnesses or tragic losses who were inspired to face their trials because of his life story. It gave his life so much meaning and purpose. What a way to go out.”

“While our family misses him so much and continues to grieve his loss, we are comforted in the knowledge that his life was long and full and his story helped so many. Our attitude is to celebrate this year as his year and take comfort in the knowledge that he is with the Lord.”

“So many [people were helped by Louie] but one that stands out is a young athlete who wrote after his passing. She woke one morning and was simply paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told her it was some rare condition and she would never walk again. Inspired by my father’s story, she began working hours each day to try to move her legs and after a month or so she was able to stand and take several steps although she still had no feelings in her legs. That’s a miracle!”

Which is the greater accomplishment? That a simple guy from Torrance, California, with no interest in learning or running would become an Olympian? That the Olympian would survive plane crashes, sharks, abuse, and torture? That the POW would embrace forgiveness? Or that this man’s story would inspire people he never met?

The more I learn, the more I’m inspired. Louie Zamperini’s life was miraculous. And with that miracle, he pointed those who would listen back to the moment of his redemption, meeting Jesus, and invite them into the miracle as well.

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Beside Still Waters: Chris Lowell’s Love Letter To Change (Movie Review)

After Daniel’s (Ryan Eggold, The Blacklist) parents die in a car accident, his friends reassemble at the summer home to support Daniel before he sells it off. But his friends are struggling with their own stuff, too, like Tom (Beck Bennett, SNL) whose father just fired him and James (Brett Dalton, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) who can’t separate his life on film and outside of it. It’s the way that real life works: it’s funnier, sadder, more dysfunctional, and ultimately, more triumphant, than we’re able to realize.

Initially, I was drawn to the film because of Chris Lowell’s involvement, as co-writer, director, and producer, yes, the same Lowell from Veronica Mars (playing Piz both on television and in the Kickstarter-funded feature-length film),  Private Practice, and the under appreciated Enlisted. His charm on screen made me think the film might have its own inflection- and subsequent discovery of the indie’s own Kickstarter campaign proved that he has a knack for drawing people in for a common goal. The film is that goal, now a reality.

Blending a nostalgia that reminded me of another summer house fav, Indian Summer, with the sort of realistic ensemble of humor and barbs of FriendsBeside Still Waters dives into hilarious territory when it comes to the ways that we’re so dysfunctional as friends, oblivious to the way that others are feeling. [And there’s also something terribly, ridiculously funny about the drinking game Whiskey Slaps- like How I Met Your Mother’s Slapsgiving.] But at the same time, it’s also intensely serious, as it wrestles with the grieving process, both of family lost, past wounds freshly revisited, and futures that may never be. And as characters try to figure out who they are in the here and now, married or not, straight or gay, in love… or not.

Lowell’s script seems to be meandering but it’s really lasering in on something, something deeper than a few quick laughs or even a superficial examination of grief. Maybe it’s the origin of the phrase, from Psalm 23 (“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters”), or maybe it’s the way that in the end, the characters seem inclined to gravitate toward… reasonable. Maybe it’s because Lowell’s film says that trying to capture what existed before but is gone isn’t healthy but living life in the here and now? That’s what this life is supposed to be about.

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The Overnighters: One-on-One With Director Jesse Moss (Interview)

The Overnighters tells the story of Pastor Jay Reinke, of Wiliston, ND, who opened the doors of his church, Concordia Lutheran, and his home to homeless men seeking jobs in the oil fields. While some of the struggles may be obvious to the audience, director Jesse Moss’ watchful eye explores the more nuanced stories of these men, this pastor, and the community around the church, discovering that there’s more than what first appears. No stranger to documentaries, Moss took time out of the busy film festival schedule and promotion of the film to catch up on what it meant to film this story and how it impacted him.

Moss has been making documentaries for twenty years, and after five years of apprenticeship, he went out on his own, seeking independent film and television documentaries. His first, Speedo, chronicled demolition derby racing, and his most recent, Full Battle Rattle, explored the fake Middle East town set up for training purposes in the Mojave Desert. After reading a clergy column that Reinke wrote in the local newspaper, challenging his community to accept these homeless, migrant workers, Moss went to North Dakota himself to meet the pastor.

“Pastor Jay was captivating, very open and intimate,” Moss said. “He told me there were men and women living in his church, and I ended up filming over eighteen months. I would travel there once a month, usually for a week at a time, sleeping on the floor.”

I asked Moss if it was that vulnerability that led to the trust we see in the film itself, if being with them allowed these men, the pastor, and the pastor’s family to show him behind the scenes. “Yes, I absolutely think that’s it. I went up there alone, without a crew, and got to know them. I think that did it.”

We chatted about the scene in the film where Moss actively becomes part of the story – something he said he normally wouldn’t have considered for the final film, but felt was too real to pass up. “Typically I wouldn’t put myself or camera in the movie. This was just a really unexpected moment. It happens in the film when things in the film are really destabilized. I thought it showed how much more real it was. People think we’re orchestrating this but we’re not. Of course, you’re making choices about filming – you’re a witness and building relationships. It builds around trust you forge with people, but it’s real life.”

Describing the church and the people around Reinke, Moss thought that by the time he arrived, Reinke was primarily on his own with the support of his family. “Initially, the church was receptive, but I don’t think anyone understood how much it would take or how it would grow or how long it would need to run. There were a few congregants who supported him, but the majority of the congregation was opposed. They worked with Jay on some changes, and kind of shrunk the program down, but it wasn’t ever formalized. [The mission] grew organically. Jay had to adapt to the program as it expanded.”

There are two ‘major twists’ in the film; the first which occurs a third of the way into the film as it’s made public that there are sex offenders among the homeless men, and another one in the ‘final act’ of the story. I asked Moss if he knew about those aspects when he began filming or if he saw them in the same chronology we did. “I discovered it as I filmed,” he said. “It wasn’t a problem until the sex offenders became known to the newspaper and Jay was confronted with that choice. Could he provide somewhere else for them to stay? It wasn’t an issue he was grappling with until about six months [into my filming]. The newspaper discovered it and Jay was concerned by how the congregation would respond to the men.”

“There was very little support –it was inflammatory. The newspaper discovered – and I’m not sure how- but at some point, two men had used the church address as their mailing address and were sex offenders; around the same time, the man Paul Engel who was aware the pastor was making rooms for sex offenders, and was angry about being displaced, went to the newspaper. “

Reinke took some major criticism at this point in the film, which may be obvious given that he’s going against the majority of his congregation. I told Moss that in my experience as a pastor, those situations do arise but I wondered what he saw behind the scenes that impacted his personal feelings about the situation. Moss said that he was very sympathetic to Reinke. “He was trying to help people. He was taking real risks and could’ve done some things differently; he was reckless at times. It was hard to watch as I was very close to him and seeing his struggles. That’s the dilemma of the filmmaker [to be watching someone suffer] but it’s good drama. I knew from the moment I met him that he was struggling with helping these people and what would happen if he did.”

So, I asked, because I had been dying to, “does anything change about your mindset given how the film ends? I want other people to see it, but I wonder if the struggles that happen won’t cloud people’s ability to see the real issues?”

Moss paused and shared some of the most personal ‘director-related’ comments I’d ever heard, highlighting the impact that a growing relationship with the pastor has had on him.

“This was a real religious education for me. It was a privilege to see Jay’s faith and struggle. The message that Jay preaches is that it’s a broken world, and everyone’s got burdens, even him. Doing good is hard. Jay’s willingness to be vulnerable really drew me in. Life is messy and complicated.

“There’s a real humility and bravery to his honesty, to share his own burdens. His willingness to believe in some of these people who’ve done wrong. Regardless of what they feel about his personal conduct, I hope people will see the bigger picture. It’s easy to fear the unknown, the immigrant, but he fights for the inclusive community. The film may take some unexpected turns, and may be challenging for people. It doesn’t provide answers but provokes questions. Whether they’re a Christian or a person of faith at all, liberal or conservative, I think the film provides a human story. So many of these documentaries provide answers like yes/no, this is right, and this film this provides “love thy neighbor.”

For his part, Moss seemed intent on putting the story in front of people, and drawing out of them how they could “love thy neighbor” better. “I’m really interested when pastors, faith groups, come to the film. It’s hard to reach these people with documentary work because they’re used to it taking one hardline side or another. I didn’t grow up in church; it was really unfamiliar but I came with curiosity and an open heart. I was watching Jay’s struggle and faith and have real appreciation for the way he lived his faith.”

We finished up with some questions about the future, like what happens if he wins an Oscar, affording him a blank check for a project? (He wants another American story that matters, and I don’t see that changing.) And what of Pastor Jay? Have we seen the last of him?

“The most important thing on the DVD is an interview I had with Jay a few months ago,” Moss said, “after it was all finished. Jay remains optimistic- it’s kind of corny but true, he says, ‘plan B is plan blessing.’ It’s his philosophy even though he’s had hard times and struggles- it’s what I love about him.”

Here’s one pastor and movie critic who hopes that’s what moviegoers and churches will see, too.

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Batman The Series: Pow! This IS Awesome (TV Review)

With the growing interest in Batman due to Tim Burton’s use of Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton in 1989’s Batman, and with the twenty-fifth anniversary of ABC’s live-action television series, Adam West toured, promoting his book and other ventures when I was a young teen. At one of his stops, a small local college, West spoke about playing the iconic detective/hero and signed autographs. I was enthralled by meeting the actor who could play my favorite superhero, even if it was a parody. The innocence of the heroes in the face of tyrannical villains was different from the gritty stories of the 1980s onward, and now seems naïve (in a good way) compared to the lengths we’ll go to as we create space for the darkest villains and our antiheroes to operate.

Watching Batman: The Complete Television Series is like a breath of fresh air! (And the Blu-ray always makes things better)

All 120 episodes are included here, for the first time in Blu-ray. It’s a hefty set, over four pounds, with special features to watch and to experience. There’s a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile and a stack of vintage cards for collectors and young fans, and the depth of the visual features is terrific, given that we already have over three thousand minutes of actual show to watch! The Episode Guide (32 pages worth) guides us from the original pair of episodes featuring Frank Gorshin’s Riddler through the final episode with Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Minerva, and the three hours, heavy with West, of bonus features. Of course, I’m most interested in rewatching all of the Joker (Cesar Romero) episodes and sharing them with my kids, but it’s also cool to see the way that they portrayed Penguin (Burgess Meredith- is he the only one who didn’t peak here?), Catwoman (Julie Newmar), and other villains like Mad Hatter, Egghead, and Mr. Freeze.

Whether it’s an exploration of the various collectibles associated with Batman with three collectors, the reflections of West in “Hanging with Batman,” “Bats of the Round Table” (with some friends), or “Inventing Batman in the Words of Adam West,” or other folks in “Na Na Na Batman!” you’ll see more about the Dark Knight specifically drawn up for this three-year heroic run. As I watch FOX’s Gotham, and see the development from a mashup of Burton and Chris Nolan’s takes on our hooded hero, I’m still impressed by looking back to watch the Batman I grew up with (well, that and the Superfriends version).

Batman will probably always be my favorite: he’s not “super,” but gifted. Sure, he’s rich, but the tradeoff for his character (losing his parents) doesn’t really bring terrible angst into this trajectory of his character (Scott Snyder will delve into that much more!) Instead, here, the focus is on his friendship/partnership with Robin (Burt Ward), and his circumspect bravery in the face of the plots of the aforementioned villains. Is it hokey, hilarious, and over the top? Absolutely. Does it add to the Batman mystique and show up in Gotham and Burton’s Batman and in pop culture affects of the Batman? Certainly.

Will it bring you and your kids closer together? Well, I didn’t say it was magic, but you could do a lot worse than showing your kids that heroes are selfless and true, and not all depressed and antisocial. And I still think it’s fabulous.

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