The world seems to be witnessing increasing levels of violence, fear, and hatred that challenge us each day. There are ongoing debates about how or whether to welcome immigrants and refugees to the United States; news headlines remind us about the plight of Syria and about the horrors of the Islamic State.
In such times, talk about mercy may seem more like wishful thinking. But mercy matters – now more than ever.
Winter isn’t coming — it’s already here. With it comes the hope — if not the time — to curl up under the covers, or by the fire, and read a good book. Here are seven titles you won’t find on the religion shelf at the bookstore, or library, but that nonetheless use religion and spirituality themes to propel the story.
Need proof that biblical entertainment is Hollywood’s holiest trend? Then look no further than Morocco, where three TV projects — National Geographic Channel’s Killing Jesus, NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues and CNN’s Finding Jesus — were filmed on neighboring sets last year.
“You got this kind of Life of Brian-esque world you’re living in, where on all of our days off, there’s 36 disciples sitting around the pool and three Jesuses at the bar,” said actor Stephen Moyer, who ditched the fangs from True Blood to play Roman governor Pontius Pilate in the Ridley Scott-produced Killing Jesus.
Based on Fox News host Bil O’Reilly’s follow-up to the books he co-wrote with Martin Dugard, Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus tracks the last days of the Christian Messiah. Played by Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman, he is portrayed less as a miracle worker and more as a political threat, and the script heightens the sexual tension between Jesus and follower Mary Magdalene (Klara Issova).
“It plays with the idea that Jesus’ teachings are more important than the doing of miracles, that the idea behind what he’s saying is the point and it doesn’t need to have out-of-body, magical elements happening,” Moyer said.
It was in my senior year of high school that I began to lose my faith in Scripture.
Then, my first year of college I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, and that pretty much destroyed what confidence I had left.
The Bible, I discovered, was full of polygamy, incest, murder, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities, and a whole bunch of screwed-up people who never seemed to get anything right.
The more I studied the “perfect” word of God, the more I expected that doctrine would become clear and consistent, the authors exemplary, and the stories contain distinct and readily discernible meanings.
When I read, I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations, and was more likely to feel disrupted than tranquil.
I almost gave up entirely.
As Christians, we’ve been taught to follow the commands written in the Bible, but it’s easy to pick and choose which verses we want to follow, and we tailor ‘holiness’ according to our particular comforts and cultural preferences.
For example, there are hundreds of verses, stories, and illustrations in the Bible that talk about giving abundantly to the poor, being absurdly generous with our resources, and not idolizing money, and yet we have a tendency to focus on the few verses that mention being ‘good stewards’ of our money (Prov. 10:4-5; 13:22).
1 Tim. 5:8 says: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Phew! This verse is all we need. It provides an opportunity for us to succumb to society’s expectations under the false pretense of being righteous — it’s a Biblical escape clause.
We search for these texts and treat them like precious treasures because they accommodate our lifestyle and help us rationalize our action (or inaction) — but we often rip them out of the larger context and disregard God’s greater intention.
Much of Jesus’s ministry centers on reconciling relationships, forgiving — and loving — enemies (Matt: 5:43-48), empathizing with those who we don’t normally understand (Philippians 2:3-4, John 8:1-11; Matt. 19:14; John 4) and loving others (John 13:34; 1 John 4:19-21). It’s hard to deny these truths, but when reality hits and we encounter those we dislike, we rely on verses that warn against bad company (1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20; Psalm 1:1) and spending time with evildoers. It’s easier to fall back on these verses than it is to recognize the ones calling us to wholeheartedly love others.
Whenever I hear someone lament that kids these days need to read their Bibles, I tell them that the Bible should be rated R for violence, nudity, rape, drug deals, and even genocide – and that’s just in the first book! Of course, as a youth pastor, I’ve found that the best way to get kids interested in the Bible is to tell them that if someone made it into a movie, it would be rated R.
The Bible and movies tell stories. Gareth points out the importance of stories in his article “It’s the Movies’ Fault/It’s not the Movies’ Fault” in which he brilliantly states that, “we could benefit from recognizing that the relationship between storytelling and the formation of human identity is crucial.” Indeed, the stories we tell are crucial to the formation of human identity, but the Bible and movies tell stories that are permeated with violence. So, the question becomes, how do we make sense of those violent stories in terms of human identity?
The producers of History Channel’s The Bible fended off claims Monday that the actor who plays Satan in the miniseries resembles President Barack Obama.
Executive producers Mark Burnett, who created Survivor, and his wife, the actress Roma Downey, described the comparisons as “utter nonsense.”
“Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love for our President, who is a fellow Christian. False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of the Bible,” according to a statement from Downey, who starred in the television show Touched by an Angel.
Mehdi Ouazaani, the Moroccan actor who portrays Satan, has played satanic roles prior to his work on The Bible, the statement said.
The social media sphere blew up with the comparison Sunday night, which was touted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, among others.
The Bible. Just the phrase sends messages, signals, and feelings to our hearts and minds, and around the world. It’s the best-selling book in human history, and one that the majority of humanity (including me), believes to have been inspired by God, with myriad interpretations of what that means.
I grew up on Bible stories, some of the best stories in human and divine history. We learned them as kids, were amazed at the images and lessons, and they were ingrained into our thinking and acting. So I watched with great delight as my sons, Luke and Jack, saw the first episode of “The Bible,” a History Channel special series that began this past Sunday and runs the five weeks through Easter. Film and television personalities Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are behind this, with a legion of others. They expect it to eventually be seen by 1 billion people.
The first Sunday show was a very dramatic depiction of the creation story, Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s call to come out to a new land, the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, the almost sacrifice of Isaac, Hebrew slavery in Egypt, Moses' call at the burning bush, and the Exodus through the Red Sea — all in two hours! I loved watching my 9-year-old Jack watch the stories with such excitement. “I know this story!” he would say and tell us what was about to happen. “I don’t know this one,” he would then comment, and we would discuss it. We had a conversation about the scary sacrifice of Isaac before bedtime, trying to figure that one out. I told him I couldn’t have been as obedient as Abraham was.
When it comes to financial advice in these tough economic times, more Americans today would rather take advice from business mogul Donald Trump than from the Bible.
According to a survey conducted in February by two biblically oriented nonprofits, 50 percent of Americans would choose Donald Trump as their financial adviser, despite his history of filing for bankruptcy, and only 32 percent look to the Bible.
"The Bible offers sound advice about managing money, avoiding debt and prospering in difficult times," said Lamar Vest, president of the American Bible Society, co-sponsor of the survey, but 94 percent of Americans are unable to pinpoint the verse from Proverbs about these themes.
Eugene Peterson has written more than 30 books on theology and the life of faith in his 80 years, but he is perhaps best known for the one book he didn’t write: The Bible.
Peterson’s “para-translation” of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, was published over a span of nine years, from 1993 to 2002. And even a decade after its completion, critics still are debating the merits and missteps of his translation of Holy Writ into idiomatic, sometimes colloquial, modern English. To date there are more than 15 million copies of The Message in print.
During the two-day Q Practices gathering in New York City this week, Peterson talked about the epic translation project he says he still can’t believe he actually managed to complete.
“I didn’t feel it was anything special when I was doing it,” Peterson said. “I can’t believe I did this. Reading it now I think, ‘How did I do this?’ It truly was a work of the Holy Spirit.”