JR. Forasteros pastors Catalyst Church in Dallas, co-hosts the Fascinating Podcast, and wrote Empathy for the Devil. He's on the quest to smoke a perfect brisket. His wife, Amanda, skates for Assassination City Roller Derby as Mother Terrorista. They're always looking for a new adventure, and their board game collection has been described as 'excessive' and 'really fun'. JR. has bylines at Relevant, Think Christian, Reel World Theology and more.

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A Pastor Chats With AI Jesus

by JR. Forasteros 02-12-2024
I put the chatbot on the “Southern Baptist” setting and braced for the worst.
The image is of an ipad screen showing the text with Jesus app, which has options for various biblical characters you can talk to.

From Text With Jesus

THE AD FOR Text With Jesus promised “A Divine Connection in Your Pocket.” Developed by Catloaf Software, the app is an artificial intelligence chatbot that takes on the persona of the Alpha and Omega. In the paid version of Text With Jesus, you can also chat with Mary, the 12 apostles, Moses, and dozens of other biblical characters, including Satan (if you dare to enable him in the settings menu). Cue eye roll.

In November 2022, ChatGPT went public. With Generative AI now at our fingertips, offering conversational responses to users’ prompts, the AI revolution was officially in full swing. Tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI raced to provide the most accurate, engaging chatbot. But no one has taken the messianic furor around generative AI quite as literally as Catloaf.

A few years before launching Text With Jesus, Catloaf president and CEO Stéphane Peter had created Texts From Jesus, an app that sends users a daily Bible verse. In an email interview with Sojourners, Peter explained that the innovation of ChatGPT offered “a compelling new element of interactivity.” Instead of a static quote from the New Testament the new app lets users have conversations with an AI Jesus.

Meeting God at Night

by JR. Forasteros 01-10-2024
Asa Merritt's fictional podcast “Six Sermons” has themes that can feel as apocalyptic as an invasion of body-snatchers.
The image shows the cover of the podcast "Six Sermons," which shows a red car and a church with a tall steeple in the background.

Audible 

PASTOR ALEXIS (narrated by Stephanie Hsu) is a recent divinity school graduate who has been hand-selected by Pastor William Hoyt (voiced by Bill Irwin) to succeed him at Trinity Grace Church in Ohio. Alexis has been working alongside Will, learning the rhythms and rigors of pastoring a small-town church. She’s young, radical, and fearless. These qualities — the very reasons Will chose her — are exactly what make a significant and influential portion of the congregation certain she’s the wrong choice. Then Will dies by suicide. Alexis is thrust into the role of lead pastor far sooner than she expected, and in apocalyptic conditions. All this is merely the first episode of Six Sermons, a 12-episode fiction podcast written by Asa Merritt (a journalist and author of the 2015 play True Believer about the Arab Spring).

Six Sermons is the story of how Alexis navigates this intense crisis: How will the cause of Will’s death impact the congregation? What should the memorial service entail? How is Alexis caring for her own mental health in the wake of her friend and mentor’s death?

Alexis, in particular, experiences God’s absence acutely. Six Sermons powerfully illustrates the humanity of pastors; both Will and Alexis are raw, vulnerable, and flawed. Early in their mentoring relationship, Will tells Alexis, “You don’t really know God until you meet him at night.” This is a story of meeting God at night.

In ‘The Burial,’ Churches Both Welcome and Exploit

by JR. Forasteros 12-07-2023

'The Burial' / Skip Bolen, Prime Video

Gary’s goal in the trial was to bring the buried deeds of the Loewen Group into the light, to tell the story they hid behind contracts and laws and cultural biases and systemic injustice. In doing so, he aims to purchase some measure of justice. Is this what Willie Gary learned in Black church?

‘Jurassic Park’ Offers a Lesson for T. Rex-Sized Megachurches

by JR. Forasteros 10-31-2023

'Jurassic Park' / United Archives GmbH / Alamy

Thirty years after the release of the Steven Spielberg film that brought T. Rex to the silver screen and turned velociraptor into a global superstar, I sat in the theater watching Jurassic Park again. But this time, it wasn’t the giant dinosaurs that captivated me. It was a small, intimate conversation between Hammond and Sattler.

Scary Accurate Monster Stories for Each Enneagram Type

by JR. Forasteros 10-03-2023

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' / New Line Cinema

The word “monster” originates with the Latin words for “omen” or “warning.” The best monster stories teach us about ourselves — about the evil that lurks in our own spirits. That’s something horror stories and the Enneagram have in common.

The True Story of a Migrant Farmworker Who Became an Astronaut

by JR. Forasteros 09-08-2023

'A Million Miles Away' / Amazon Studios

A Million Miles Away feels like a story too good to be true. But the new film is the true story of José Hernandéz (Michael Peña), a migrant farmworker who became a NASA astronaut.

The Best Christian Movie You’ve Never Seen

by JR. Forasteros 08-02-2023
A meditation on what it means to stand up to institutional abuse without allowing the violence of the church to poison our own spirits.
Philomena (played by Dame Judi Dench) and Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan) sit next to each other in a waiting room. Philomena is wearing a black jacket with a flower-patterned scarf. Sixsmith is wearing a dark brown jacket and blue jeans.

From Philomena

THE BEST CHRISTIAN MOVIE you’ve never seen (even though it was Oscar-nominated for best picture!) turns 10 this year. That movie is Philomena, adapted from The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and A Fifty-Year Search, by British journalist Martin Sixsmith. The film stars Dame Judi Dench as the titular mother and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith. While the book primarily focuses on Philomena’s son Michael Hess, the film more closely traces the mother’s story. As a pregnant teenager, Philomena was abandoned to a convent of nuns who forced young women to work without pay and sold their children to wealthy Americans looking to adopt.

On her son’s 50th birthday, Philomena weeps, clutching the only pictures she has of him. Despite her efforts, she has never been able to learn his fate. When Sixsmith, a disgraced journalist, learns of Philomena’s plight, he agrees to help her. What began as a distraction from his own troubles soon shifts to captivation. Despite Philomena’s assurances that the sisters of the convent have done their best to care for the women and children in their charge, Sixsmith uncovers a devilish conspiracy of silence.

The Question of Sin at the Heart of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’

by JR. Forasteros 07-26-2023
Barbie wears a pink dress and looks out over Barbieland

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Both films are sympathetic to creators, but neither film lets their creations off the hook. Oppenheimer worries aloud how the nuclear power he unleashed will shape the atomic age. Barbie faces a lunch table of schoolgirls who tell her exactly how the Barbie beauty standards made them feel un-feminine. But both films ultimately move beyond the myth of the single creator and focus on the forces that shape that creation’s ongoing impact on the larger world.

What Dying Churches Can Learn from ‘The Bear’

by JR. Forasteros 07-21-2023

'The Bear,' Chuck Hodes/FX

In this day and age, even a very good restaurant struggles to survive; thriving is a pipe dream. And in this way, the restaurant industry doesn’t sound so different from Western Christianity.

‘Across the Spider-Verse’ Challenges the Idol of Sacred Stories

by JR. Forasteros 06-20-2023

‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ still via Sony Pictures Publicity. 

Who gets to belong? This was the question Miles Morales asked himself in 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The smash-hit film introduced superhero movies to the multiverse, the idea that multiple universes exist parallel to each other, marked by only minor differences between them.

White Jesus' Hellish Influence

by JR. Forasteros 06-02-2023
Tamice Spencer-Helms on what it means for Christianity and society to leave white supremacy behind.
The cover for the book ‘Faith Unleavened.’ It features a dark brown background with white bare trees that frame the title, subtitle, and author; small drawings of Black Lives Matter protesters, a wrapper, and more  are interwoven among the branches.

Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness Between Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, by Tamice Spencer-Helms, KTF Press

Tamice Spencer-Helms shows how colonialism and white supremacy are embodied in a Jesus made in Christian Europe's image.

Legislating the Ten Commandments Isn’t the Same as Keeping Them

by JR. Forasteros 05-24-2023

Protesters stand outside the Georgia capitol in Atlanta on September 29, 2003, to advocate that the Ten Commandments be kept in federal and state buildings across the country. Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell TLC.

The Senate of my home state, Texas, recently made news for passing three bills designed to bring Christianity into public schools. As I told NewsNation when they interviewed me earlier this week about the proposed legislation, I think this is an example of a government attempting to force beliefs on people. Yesterday, the State House failed to pass a law that would’ve required the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools. SB 1515 would’ve required that “a public elementary or secondary school shall display in a conspicuous place in each classroom of the school a durable poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments.”

Republicans in Texas argued that this move would reinforce essential American identity because America was founded on so-called “Judeo-Christian” principles. According to the Texas Tribune, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defended the law by saying, “Bringing the Ten Commandments and prayer back to our public schools will enable our students to become better Texans.”

What Distinguishes YHWH From the Destructive Gods of Marvel?

by JR. Forasteros 05-23-2023

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ / Marvel

What does it take to survive the wrath of gods? This has been a perennial question for Star Lord, Rocket, Gamora, Drax, Groot, Mantis, Nebula, and the others who have found themselves drawn into the orbit of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

‘Evil Dead Rise’ Shows the Horror of a World Without Resurrection

by JR. Forasteros 05-11-2023

'Evil Dead Rise' / Warner Bros.

Unlike many possession stories, The Evil Dead franchise envisions a world without hope of exorcism. The unique version of evil in this franchise calls to mind the cruelty of empires old and new.

Apocalypse Stories Reveal How to Create a World Worth Saving

by JR. Forasteros 04-26-2023
From Revelation to ‘The Last of Us,’ our end-time imaginings can show us who we are — and who we could be.
Joel (actor Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (actress Bella Ramsey) from 'The Last of Us' HBO series are standing side by side on the roof of a neglected building with their arms leaning on a brick wall covered in foliage.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us / Liane Hentscher / HBO

HBO’S BIGGEST POST-APOCALYPTIC SHOW, The Last of Us, imagines a brutal world — and the mushroom zombies are only occasionally the source of danger. The first season followed Joel (Pedro Pascal), as he escorted teen Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is immune to the zombie infection, to a hospital that can turn her immunity into a cure. In the final episode [SPOILERS], Joel and Ellie reach their destination. But when Joel learns they can only manufacture the cure by killing Ellie, he kills the doctor who was set to operate on Ellie. Joel’s decision raises the question: If the world can only be saved by sacrificing the innocent, is it a world we want to save? The Last of Us, itself an adaptation of a beloved video game, is far from the first show that employs apocalypse to interrogate our morality. Our end-time imaginings can show us who we are ... and who we could be.

The Greek title of the last book in the New Testament canon is Apokalypsis (“apocalypse”), the best English rendering of which is “revelation.” Revelation isn’t about the end of the world. It’s about a revelation — an unveiling. Revelation is one example from the genre of books we call apocalyptic literature. The genre, popular among Jews and Christians for hundreds of years before and after Jesus’ life, usually features a human receiving a message from some sort of divine messenger. The messenger wants to show the listener some deeper truth about the world — something that helps the audience participate more faithfully in the new world God is bringing forth.

‘Creed III’ Puts Messianic Masculinity in the Ring

by JR. Forasteros 03-20-2023

Photo by Eli Ade / MGM

First-time director Jordan has a lot to say about masculinity, particularly Black masculinity. Ultimately, Creed III offers a hopeful vision of a future for Black men that doesn’t live in the shadow of white supremacy.

In ‘The Whale’ and in the Gospels, We Crucify What Disgusts Us

by JR. Forasteros 01-18-2023

Brendan Fraser in the role of Charlie, in ‘The Whale’

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film The Whale has made a splash, both for Brendan Fraser’s heart-wrenching portrayal of the 600-pound Charlie and for critics’ accusations of fatphobia in the film.

‘A League of Their Own': What Churches Can Learn From Women’s Sports

by JR. Forasteros 12-15-2022

Melanie Field (Jo) prepares for her at-bat in Amazon series A League of Their Own. Credit: Anne Marie Fox/Prime Video.

Churches far too often operate under the “male gaze.” The male gaze, a term I'm borrowing from film criticism, always answers the question of “Who is this for?” with “Well, men, of course.” Some congregations, even though they affirm women pastors, worship directors, and singers, still caution them to dress so that the men in the congregation don’t find them “tempting.” The male gaze is always cisgendered and heterosexual, so churches that are formed by the male gaze are structured to be hostile toward queer people (no matter how kind congregants in those churches are to queer individuals).

‘Wakanda Forever’ Is Mired in Grief

by JR. Forasteros 11-11-2022

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ still. Courtesy Disney. 

But it’s not the absence of Chadwick Boseman — whose death in 2020 is paralleled by T’Challa’s fate in the film — that makes the film fall short. Wakanda Forever suffers from the same ailment as much of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe: It tries to offer individualistic answers to systemic evils. Unfortunately, there are evils in the world we can’t simply punch to death

A Spooktacular Book for Jesus-Loving Horror Fans

by JR. Forasteros 10-12-2022

There’s a kind of willful ignorance horror-averse Christians demand, because the truth is we don’t want to sit with the shadows or go down into the basement. We want to sweep all the ugly parts of life back under the bed where they might go bump in the night but won't trouble us in the light of day.