sacred space

Anderson Creates Sacred Cinematic Space in 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Director Wes Anderson (left) chats with Jude Law (Young Author) on the set of "Grand Budapest Hotel."

To my mind, all of Wes Anderson’s films are masterpieces in the truest sense of that word. But his most recent creation, Grand Budapest Hotel, is, perhaps, his chef d’oeuvre.

Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, which opened in limited release last week, Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, hilarious, and surprisingly touching tale laden with nostalgia for a world and way of life most of us (including the 44-year-old director himself) never have experienced.

Set in the fictional Eastern European mountain region known as the “Republic of Zubrowka,” the plot centers around the character and adventures of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel, one of Europe’s palatial “grand hotels. Gustave is something of a dandy, a throwback to a bygone era even in his heyday of the 1930s on the cusp of World War II.

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Why I Made My Teenager Go to Church

Teen sleeping in, Myimagine / Shutterstock.com

Teen sleeping in, Myimagine / Shutterstock.com

Making an ultimatum about church attendance to a sleep-deprived teenager may be my own version of hell on earth.

“We are leaving for church in 10 minutes,” I said, summoning my most authoritative voice before the lifeless lump under the covers.

My seven-year old Annie Sky watched the tense exchange between me and my 14-year old daughter Maya, who made periodic moans from the top bunk. With furrowed brow, my first grader sat on the couch, as if observing a tiebreaker at Wimbledon with no clear victor in sight.

For a moment, I wondered why I had drawn the line in the Sabbath sand, announcing earlier in the week that Maya would have to go to church that Sunday morning after an all-day trip to Dollywood with the middle school band. Somehow I didn’t want Dolly Parton’s amusement park to sabotage our family time in church. (The logic seemed rational at the time).

When Maya lifted the covers, I glimpsed the circles under her eyes and sunburn on her skin. But I repeated my command, with an undertone of panic, since I wasn’t sure if I could uphold the ultimatum.

When she finally got into the car, I breathed deeply and turned to our family balm, the tonic of 104.3 FM with its top 40 songs that we sing in unison. As the drama settled, I realized one reason why I made my teenager go to church: I want my daughters to know that we can recover from yelling at each other (which we had) and disagreeing. We can move on, and a quiet, sacred space is a good place to start.

Sikhs and Sacred Ground

Members of Wisconsin's Sikh community hold a candle-light vigil for six people killed in an attack a day earlier.

Imagine the terror.

You are in a temple, a safe, sacred place, preparing for a morning service. In the kitchen, you are busy cooking food for lunch, while others read scriptures and recite prayers. Friends begin to gather for the soon-to-start service.

At the front door, you smile at the next man who enters. He does not smile back. Instead, he greets you with hateful stare and bullets from his gun.

Such was the scene Sunday at a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wis., just south of Milwaukee, where a gunman, Wade Michael Page, killed six and critically injured three others before being shot down by law enforcement agents.

As Page began his shooting spree, terrified worshippers sought shelter in bathrooms and prayer rooms. Rumors of a hostage situation surfaced, and those trapped inside asked loved ones outside not to text or call their cell phones, for fear that the phone ring might give away their hiding place.

The first police officer to arrive on the scene stopped to tend to a victim outside the gurudwara. He looked up to find the shooter pointing his gun directly at him, and then took several bullets to his upper body. He waved the next set of officers into the temple, encouraging them to help others even as he bled. 

That magnanimity is a common theme among the stories of victims and survivors of the Wisconsin shootings. Amidst terror and confusion, Sikhs offered food and water to the growing crowd of police and news reporters outside the gurudwara as part of langar — the Sikh practice of feeding all visitors to the house of worship.

Wild Goose: A Sacred and Safe Place

Love Wins Ministries at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Love Wins Ministries' exhibit at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

By now, you have probably read about the Wild Goose Festival. You have heard about the big name speakers, you were told about beer and hymns, you know about the dunk tank and the killer music and the ticks and the scorching Carolina heat.

But, awesome as all that was, it all pales in comparison to my memory of a late night conversation at the Goose with my friend Mike.

You see, Mike is one of about 1,200 people in Wake County, N.C., who are currently without housing. Some nights he lives at the shelter, other nights he couch surfs with various friends, and some nights he sleeps in the dumpster of that downtown church with the $2 million pipe organ.

Mike is one of our volunteers at Love Wins Ministries, our little ministry of pastoral care and presence to the homeless community in Raleigh, N.C. And yes, he is currently homeless. But Mike still volunteers with us, because where you live does not decide your value or define your ability to contribute.

So, when I mentioned to Mike that we were running a booth at the Wild Goose Festival and I wanted him to come as our guest and help us run it, he was skeptical.

"These are church folks, right?" Mike said. "I don't do church folks well. You know that."

Hearts in the Trash (Day Two)

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.

While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.

Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.

“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”

“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.

“Taking it where?”

“Good question.”

The SojoMusic Interview: Denison Witmer, 'Creating Space Where Truth Can Move'

Denison Witmer by Ethan Luck.

Denison Witmer by Ethan Luck.

Singer-songwriter Denison Witmer’s 2005 album Are you a Dreamer? was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence — his calm voice a sonic companion as I navigated the choppy waters of high school insecurities; his complex fingerpicking acoustic guitar style a mentor as I learned to play and write my own music. Witmer’s soulful voice, thoughtful lyrics and inimitable style (some critics have called it “neo-folk” a la Cat Stevens or Nick Drake), has stuck with me for years. Just a snippet of his lyrics or melody can transport me back to precisely where I was when I first heard them, a younger me dreaming of who I might become. 

When Witmer’s latest tour brought him through Washington, D.C. last month, I caught up with him backstage before his gig at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. We talked in the artist lounge and sound check stage, before venturing out for a couple of veggie wraps while exploring a variety of subjects from music and family to saints and beer. And we even managed to persuade him to play a couple of songs for us, which we’ve captured here on video for you. (You’re welcome.)

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