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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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.

When Monsters Serve as Prophets

by JR. Forasteros 09-27-2022
Horror can reveal truths about systems and structures that work to protect the status quo.
A close-up screenshot from Alien 3; an alien creature with its mouth open is seen from the side, with its teeth next to the shiny face and ear of a white woman who directly faces the camera.

From Alien 3 (1992)

THE PRIEST WALKS into the bedroom to face the little girl. It’s not a little girl, though. Something dark, something other looks out from her eyes. It opens her mouth to spew blasphemies, obscenities. The priest raises a crucifix, shouting, “The power of Christ compels you!”

So goes The Exorcist, the 1973 Oscar winner directed by William Friedkin. As a 17-year-old, I was not prepared for the visceral horror of seeing a possessed young Regan (Linda Blair) serve as the battleground between God and the devil. Neither were my Southern Baptist youth group friends who watched with me in my home. And neither were their parents, who (according to my long-suffering mother) were quite angry that I had hosted this viewing.

On the surface, those parents’ horror is understandable. The Exorcist more than earns its R rating, with gore and a good bit of blasphemy. But sit with Pazuzu (the demon) for a little longer, and it becomes clear that the film aligns well with conservative evangelical politics — a perspective in which I was raised and which persists in many corners of the U.S. church today.

‘Rings of Power’ Is a Tolkien Tale of the Corruption of Goodness

by JR. Forasteros 09-01-2022

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” via Amazon Studios.

The stories we tell ourselves matter, even if you’re an immortal elf. The first season of Rings of Power, Amazon Studios’ new 8-episode prequel to The Lord of the Rings, opens with the scene of a young Galadriel, the Elvish royalty who will refuse Frodo’s offer to wield the One Ring thousands of years in the future.

Jordan Peele Knows How to Make Bible Verses Scary

by JR. Forasteros 07-27-2022

Universal Pictures, 'Nope'

Nope, writer/director Jordan Peele’s third theatrical release, opens with a Bible verse: “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” (Nahum 3:6). Cut to a blood-soaked sitcom set where a chimpanzee — arms and mouth also covered in blood — wanders around before settling down and looking at the audience.

What Good Is a God Who Can't Save Us? Asks ‘Thor: Love & Thunder’

by JR. Forasteros 07-14-2022
Natalie Portman holds a large hammer and is dressed as Thor.

Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster. Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios.

What makes a god worthy of worship? A heavy question, and probably not one you’d expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But writer, director Taika Waititi’s latest film, Thor: Love and Thunder, takes aim at that very question.

'Top Gun: Maverick' Makes Pentagon Propaganda Fun

by JR. Forasteros 05-27-2022

Tom Cruise stars in Top Gun: Maverick.

I loved watching Top Gun: Maverick. That’s the main problem, actually. The new “lega-sequel” hits all the right notes, including a repeated on-screen instruction not to think. The result is a thrilling jingoistic fable about the inherent heroism of the U.S. military, built on a long legacy of violence.

How Multiverse Stories Invite Us to Envision Jesus’ Alternative Community

by JR. Forasteros 05-12-2022

Image via Marvel Studios

Two films in theaters right now ask if we can find some way to escape the madness of our reality and find something better. Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

Andre Henry Helps Us Find the Freedom to Flourish

by JR. Forasteros 05-09-2022
'All the White Friends I Couldn't Keep' teaches readers language, strategies, and habits of nonviolent, anti-racist resistance.

All the White Friends I Couldn't Keep: Hope—and Hard Pills to Swallow—About Fighting for Black Lives, by Andre Henry / Convergent Books

AUSTIN CHANNING BROWN, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, posted once that she didn’t need “more friends” but rather wanted “partners in the struggle for justice.”

As a white Midwesterner, I’d thought of racial injustice as an individual problem—individuals not liking other individuals who didn’t look like them. Therefore, the answer to racism was friendship. I worked at churches that celebrated calls to the common table in worship, absent confession or repentance, to sanctify my individualistic take on race. Brown’s words shook me—this activist wants co-laborers, not friends? What even is the work if it’s not friendship?

While Andre Henry is Black and grew up in the South, he and I were raised on the same milk of individualistic race relations. In his debut book, All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Henry narrates his journey out of the “colorblind” evangelicalism of his childhood to being an artist, activist, and community organizer for systemic racial justice.

‘The Batman' in One Hand, the Book of Judges in the Other

by JR. Forasteros 03-03-2022

 Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman and Robert Pattinson as Batman in The Batman (2022).

This is a tale of two orphans, Bruce and Jephthah. A tale of two cities, Gotham and Gilead. A story of curses and vengeance and redemption.

‘Encanto’ Offers a Warning About Ignoring Young Prophets

by JR. Forasteros 01-13-2022

Mirabel in 'Encanto' via Disney.

My friend Myca pointed out that Encanto doesn't have a villain. Disney villains are almost as popular as the princesses — they even have their own board game. And the animated movie Encanto, available for streaming on Disney+, would seem ripe for villainy. The magical Madrigal family at the heart of the film begins to lose the magic that made them special — surely someone is to blame! But no one lurks in the shadows, twirling a mustache and absconding with magic. Instead, the story of Encanto is one of families, systems, and prophets — one that can serve as a warning and a balm to churches struggling to cope with a changing world.

The Surprising Theology of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’

by JR. Forasteros 12-22-2021

Dr. Strange casts a spell on behalf of Peter Parker in Spider-Man No Way Home. Matt Kennedy, Marvel Studios

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the end of a lot of things. It's the end of the (first) Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man trilogy. It’s the end of a lot of speculation about how the multiverse will play into the MCU’s future (since the Loki TV show broke it open). But it also signals the end of the MCU’s innocence — and by extension, superhero movies in general. Spider-Man: No Way Home insists that true heroism looks markedly different from what superhero movies have offered thus far.

How Can Highways Be Racist?

by JR. Forasteros 11-23-2021

The High Five Interchange in Dallas via shutterstock.com.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made headlines by announcing that the recently-passed $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill will be used in part to address racial inequities in U.S. highway design. “If a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach … in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices,” he said.

A number of Americans were confused — how can concrete and paint be racist? But Buttigieg is correct: Highways and bridges are examples of structural racism literally built into the American cityscape. Reconstructing more equitable cities will require prophetic imagination and real, political solutions. They will vary from city to city. From suburb to suburb. So if you’re looking for a place to start, look in your own neighborhood.