Constant readers have probably noticed that the writing here has been a bit slower in the past month. It’s been two weeks since my last post, and a look at my Letterboxd account this weekend revealed I only saw two movies in the month of April. There’s a reason for that: I’ve been in the final weeks of my grad school semester, crunching on a paper that took up pretty much all of my free time. We’ve been short-staffed at my day job during one of our busiest times of the year, and family life has been busy. So, there hasn’t been a ton of time for reading, writing or viewing.
But class ended last week (with an ‘A,’ thank you very much) and work is slowing down a bit. Even though it’s only the first week of May, it feels like we’re switching gears into summer. On Friday, I’ll have my review of this season’s first big blockbuster. That day, I’ll also be heading down to Florida for a week with the family. I hope to get some pieces scheduled before I go so that there’s content coming through next week, and then I hope to really kick into gear with some fun stuff this summer. But before I do, I figured maybe it would be a good time to talk about the few things I have been watching or reading, and what to expect in the coming weeks.
- I had a chance the other night to watch the documentary “Is Genesis History.” The film was highly successful early this year as a Fathom event and it’s currently one of the more popular films on iTunes and On Demand. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s a series of interviews with geologists, Hebrew experts and others to back up a Young Earth Theory of Creation. I must admit that it at least passes the test of looking like a quality film. It’s photographed in beautiful locations around the world, has some slick animated graphics and generally comes off as professional.
- I feel like I can’t review the film fairly, though, because I’ve made my thoughts on Creation/Evolution pretty clear. I don’t subscribe to a Young Earth theory, and I consider myself an evolutionary creationist. This film didn’t change that, and I don’t want to turn it into an argument. Although the host talks with scientists, their theories have been contradicted and refuted by other geologists and scholars. The film doesn’t present any other views or examine different perspectives, even those held by Christians who don’t subscribe to YEC and are open to evolutionary processes being used in God’s design. The host presents a false dichotomy, saying there are only two views: the “conventional” view, which believes in evolution as a random, godless act, and the “biblical view,” which in this film’s perspective means a literal six-day creation and an Earth that’s only a few thousand years old. The beliefs of those who hold to something different, including such lions of the faith as Augustine, are not addressed. In this film’s view, I’m not considered a Christian, even though I don’t believe in a random evolution.
- Here’s the thing: I don’t want to argue Creation and Evolution. Strong Christians believe in Evolution and strong Christians believe in a Young Earth. It’s fine; go where you feel God is leading you. But my issue with “Is Genesis History” is that it’s indicative of a bigger problem in Christian culture: mainly, that it doesn’t exist to include all Christians. “Is Genesis History” is aimed at Christians who believe in YEC and are skeptical of mainstream science, but is closed off to those open to something alternative. It’s similar to “God’s Not Dead’s” definition of a Christian being someone who votes Republican and feels that non-Christians are persecuting them for their faith. I’m not saying those people aren’t Christians; but these films depict Christianity as something with narrow specifications that go beyond the Gospel. Christian pop culture looks at Christianity not as the global body of Christ but as a specific marketing demographic. That’s a big problem. One the one hand, it turns debatable issues into ultimate ones, making one’s identity in Christ hinge not on the cross and grace, but on beliefs of the planet’s origins, politics and cultural interests. When you do that, you make it difficult to keep the main thing the main thing.
- More than that, these pieces of pop culture squelch one of the most beautiful things about Christianity, which is its diversity. Christians believe the ground is level at the foot of the cross and that our identity is found in Christ. It’s not something that hinges on ethnicity, political ideology, cultural heritage or even certain doctrinal beliefs. We need the balance of Young Earth Creationists and evolutionists to remind us that faith and science can peacefully co-exist and that we don’t have all the answers. We need democrats and republicans to remind us that our political parties are not our ultimate authorities. We need Calvinists and Arminians to help us remember that God is sovereign but also that He is a God of love. We need diversity because we are finite beings trying to understand an infinite God, and we need multiple viewpoints to keep us humble and keep our theological imaginations active.
- And no, this isn’t just limited to conservative Christians. I am fully aware that it’s fashionable for progressive Christians to want to claim Christianity for themselves and say those who might be a little more rigid in their beliefs or vote more to the right aren’t truly Christian. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon myself at times. It’s wrong, and I’m trying to deal with that better. We need to be unified…but that doesn’t mean we’re uniform.
- So, onto more fun things. I’m really enjoying the rebooted “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on Netflix. I was a big fan of the original back in its heyday and I was curious whether a version with a new host could strike that same balance of smart and juvenile humor. But Jonah Ray’s been a great addition to the show and the writing is the same wonderful mix of silly, obscure and smart that I remember from its Comedy Central days. “Cry Wilderness” alone is an all-timer. Glad to have this show back and eager to finish the season soon.
- I’m currently reading Glen Weldon’s book “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture.” It’s a fascinating book. Batman’s always been that rare character who is embraced both by comic book geeks and “normals,” but he’s also the flash point for some really heated geek arguments. Weldon’s book examines how Batman has been reinterpreted throughout the years, from the dark and gritty comic book character to the “Bang! Pow!” campy Caped Crusader of the 1960s. Reading it in light of ping-ponging between Zach Snyder’s angry dudebro Batman and the cheeriness of “The Lego Batman” helped me gain perspective on how this character can take any shape, so long as certain touchstones are hit. But it’s also an enlightening look at the world of geeks, their feelings of ownership and the way we don’t just want people to like what we like, but to do it in the same way we do.
- I also give a hearty recommendation to Netflix’s three-part documentary series “Five Came Back.” Based on the book by Mark Harris, the series looks at five directors’ (Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler and George Stevens) experiences during World War II and how it helped shape the national perception of the war and informed their cinematic output afterward. The five directors are discussed by five current artists (Steven Spielberg, Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro and Lawrence Kasdan), and it’s a fascinating look at art, politics and combat. Really great footage, and it lends new insight into films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “The Searchers.” Netflix has also made about a dozen WWII-era docs by these directors available as a great supplement. If I had any criticism, it would be that I wanted this to be another hour or two long; it feels a tad rushed and I wish it had time to breathe. But film nerds and history buffs might want to give it a look.
- As I said, my summer starts this week, and I’m hoping to really do some fun stuff here. There will, of course, continue to be reviews of the films I see, but I’m hoping to use some of my time off next week to brainstorm a summer project. I really want to write a bit more about older films or find a topic to explore. Hoping some time on the beach will clear my head enough to think of something really fun. Keep your eyes on this site for more news!