God is a fountain of sending love

God is a fountain of sending love

Who doesn’t love a fountain? Fountains are extravagantly, unceasingly festive. Whether it’s the continuous trickle of Rome’s Trevi fountain, or the exuberant bursts of the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, a fountain is a thing of joy. Some fountains are flashy and show-offy, like Seoul’s Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow. Others, like New York’s Bethesda fountain in Central Park, are stately and majestic. Human beings have been figuring out how to move water since time immemorial. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, they all built ingenious systems for hoisting water from rivers for drinking and irrigation. But the Romans perfected it. They built aqueducts and public baths. They worked out how to make fountains spray water into the air by using the pressure of water flowing from a distant and higher source. After them, the Islamic world built fountains in Pasargades, Lahore, Alhambra and Istanbul. And then, during the Renaissance, Europeans went crazy for fountains. They built them everywhere and in every possible configuration. But in this day and age, with our hot and cold running water and our swimming pools and jacuzzis, what exactly is the point of a fountain? Surely, they serve no purpose other than to be sheer, unadulterated fun. Nowhere is this more obvious than Jaume Plensa’s hilarious Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park. More than merely

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Brotopia: breaking up the church’s boys club

Brotopia: breaking up the church’s boys club

Last year, Emily Chang published Brotopia, about the boys club running the tech industry in Silicone Valley. But if there is a truly entrenched brotopia anywhere it would be in the church, and specifically in the clergy. Many men have voiced their support for women in leadership in the church. Sadly, even those male allies calling for the breaking up of the church’s boys club can sound a bit hollow when they belong to teams comprising all men, attend conferences at which only men speak, sit on all-male committees, worship in churches with only men on the staff, and only read books written by men. One of the important ways male leaders will break up the boys club in our churches is to model change in their own lives and ministries. That means submitting to the leadership and insights of women. Are we learning from women? Are we being led by women? Are we modelling a more inclusive stance on gender in the church? Here are some suggestions for ways that men who wish to affirm the role of women as teachers and leaders might do that:   1. Invite a woman to be your mentor If we are serious about affirming the role of women in our churches then one small but important step could be to invite a

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Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

Last week, the ABC’s youth station, Triple J, declared it “Porn Week” and broadcast a series of stories about our use of porn and the ways to use it to enhance your relationships. They had previously surveyed more than 15,000 people aged 18-29 about their use of online pornography. Here’s the infographic with their findings: And in case fineprint was too fine, here are my takeaways from their survey: Just about every man surveyed watches porn, and just over half of women In general, guys watch porn a lot more often than women Almost no-one pays for porn About half of men worry they watch too much porn Despite the above, relatively few are worried that porn has negatively affected their relationship In fact, a larger proportion say porn has been good for their relationship And in case it’s not already good for you and your partner, the ABC published a handful of articles about how porn can enhance your love life, like this one, “How porn can be a positive influence in your relationship.” The assumptions behind the week-long campaign seems to be (1) porn is here to stay so we’d better get used to it, (2) watching it is nothing to be ashamed of, and (3) you might as well be open about it with your partner. But

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When your wound is the gift

When your wound is the gift

You might have seen the recent conversation between Late Show host Stephen Colbert and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. They were discussing how to deal with grief and loss, and Cooper was reflecting on Colbert’s words to him on the death of his mother. Choking back tears, Cooper asked, “You said ‘what punishments of god are not gifts?’ Do you really believe that?” “Yes,” replied Colbert, “It’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.” Colbert then went on to say that either we’re grateful for all of life, including the difficult parts, or we’re not grateful for any of it. It was a really beautiful exchange between grieving friends. What punishments of God are not gifts?   Who thinks like that? Well, Colbert admitted he got the line from British novelist, J.R.R. Tolkien: “A divine ‘punishment’ is also a divine ‘gift’, if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make ‘punishments’ (that is changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286) In context, Tolkien was suggesting that the elves in his stories, although immortal, envy humans who experience grief and loss because of the precious good these “punishments” bestow. What good? Tolkien says loss and grief, as dreadful

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Look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people

Look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people

I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Australian Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me. Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others. And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes. In the US it takes the form of Tucker Carlson downplaying white supremacist movements, or Rush Limbaugh slamming Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib as “anti-semites,” or Dave Daubenmire telling Christians to “pay zero attention” to the victims of a mosque shooting. Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And

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Christians in the movies: the good, the bad and the ugly

Christians in the movies: the good, the bad and the ugly

This is the third in a three-part series of posts exploring Christianity and mainstream cinema. In the first post I looked at how Jesus has been depicted in film, suggesting he hasn’t been treated terribly well as a cinematic hero. In the second post I looked a Christ-figures, non-religious characters whose lives have mirrored Christ’s in some way. In this post I want to look a some of the best examples of overtly Christian characters in film. The religiously pious aren’t always depicted in the most positive light. Hollywood movies are full of religious nuts. There’s a whole sub-genre of films about mad evangelists like Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) in The Night of the Hunter (1955) and his counterpoint, the tongues-speaking, Max Cady (Robert De Niro) in Cape Fear (1991). Then there’s obsessive fundamentalists, like the albino priest, Silas (Paul Bettany) in The Da Vinci Code (2006), and the Bible-thumping Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) in There Will Be Blood (2007). Similarly, there’s been a regular parade of somewhat unhinged nuns in film, like Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) in Black Narcissus (1947), Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) in Agnes of God (1985), and the crusading Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) in Doubt (2008). But it’s not all bad news. Mainstream cinema has presented us with some powerful, complex, and authentic depictions of

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Stealth Messiahs: Christ figures in film

Stealth Messiahs: Christ figures in film

In a previous post I complained about how many films about Jesus are so lame. I suggested it was because filmmakers tend to be overly reverential with their central character, as well as appearing to be paralyzed about using speculative or non-biblical dialogue (unless their name is Scorsese). A more satisfying, and frankly more successful, approach is to avoid a sword-and-sandal epic about Jesus himself and opt for a stand-in, a redemptive Christ figure who doesn’t crumble under the expectations of Christian viewers.  So to that end, here are some films I think do well at depicting part of the gospel story by using a character who looks like Jesus in disguise. To begin, allow me to get a couple of my pet-hates out of the way. Firstly, the cruciform sacrifice scene is just downright lazy, if you ask me. Whether it’s Ripley at the end of Alien 3 (1992), or Robert De Niro’s rope-prone boxer in Raging Bull (1980), or the sacrifice of Neo at the end of The Matrix: Revolutions (2003), it’s just all too obvious for my liking. I really enjoy a film that depicts the salvific effect of self-sacrifice, but I don’t need it shoved down my throat. And nowhere is it more obvious than in Cool Hand Luke (1967), where the religious symbolism is laid on

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Weaker Sex? As If.

Weaker Sex? As If.

The reference to women being the “weaker sex” comes from the Bible, I know. It’s a variation on the words of 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel…” Note the term, vessel, not sex or gender. Some scholars say that when Peter uses the term vessel (in Greek, skeuei) he meant just that, a vessel or a jar or container of some sort. And if that’s case, what he’s saying isn’t that men should take care of their weaker wives, but that they should treat them as one would a piece of pottery that warrants special care, like a family heirloom. It’s also worth noting that the whole passage that precedes it is about how Christians should treat their unbelieving spouses. So, it seems clear that Peter is saying that newly converted men should treat their still-pagan wives with special care. Rather than lording their new-found religion over them, they ought to woo their wives into the faith by affording them special dignity. This makes sense because he has just told Christian wives to win over their unbelieving husbands in the same way. (3:1-6). It might be true that men have a higher percentage of lean muscle mass than women, but that definitely doesn’t make

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Let’s not condemn the victims of the evangelical bubble

Let’s not condemn the victims of the evangelical bubble

I don’t know Joshua Harris and I haven’t read his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, so I really don’t have anything to add to the discussion about his recent decision to end his marriage and abandon his faith. I can only guess how painful the journey must have been for him to move from being the poster boy for evangelical purity culture to a divorced unbeliever. I feel for him. And for his wife and family. It’s too easy to heap scorn on him as a “backslider” or an apostate. Like a whole generation of teens, he was swept up into the all-consuming world of conservative evangelicalism. They were “on fire”. They were “Jesus Freaks.” They were immersed in the world of youth conferences and Amy Grant and True Love Waits. It was intoxicating. And Joshua Harris drank the Kool Aid. More than that, at 21, he wrote the handbook on purity culture. I’d heard he’d disowned the book a while ago, asking for forgiveness for what he wrote and how it had messed with so many kids’ lives. Then came his recent revelation that his own marriage had ended. Then came yet another disclosure that he’d lost his faith altogether. Like I said, I don’t know him. I can’t reflect on his journey specifically. But he’s not the only

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If Jesus was such a great scriptwriter, why do his movies stink?

If Jesus was such a great scriptwriter, why do his movies stink?

Most viewers will take a biopic at face value, not knowing enough about the subject’s life to know whether it’s an historically accurate portrayal or not. But if you make a film about Jesus you know you’re going to have 1.2 billion Catholics and 800 million Protestants picking it apart frame by frame. That’s because Christians aren’t just fans of Jesus. They adore him. This might explain why nearly every screen portrayal of Christ has to make trade offs like artistry versus accuracy, and accessibility versus reverence. To appease Christian audiences, most filmmakers go for the latter (accuracy and reverence), which turns their Jesuses into vapid, unremarkable messiahs, who often seem either confused or downright smug, or too small for the epic drama they’re part of. But when a filmmaker like Pasolini or Scorsese tries to play with the narrative to make Jesus more accessible or to bring out a particular element of the story, they are pilloried by Christian audiences, and their films are condemned. Here’s eleven depictions of Jesus, most of which prove that while Jesus could write a brilliant script, his movies can be real stinkaroos.   King of Kings (1927) We might as well start at the beginning. This was the first film to portray Jesus using an actor (H. B. Warner). The director Cecil B

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