Culture

Colm Toibin’s 'Testament of Mary' Brings Jesus’ Mother Down to Earth

Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production
iona Shaw in a scene from The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín. Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

How far can one go in retelling a Bible story, adding things that are not in the original? In The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin goes a long way.

His 2012 book is now a Broadway play presenting a view of the mother of Jesus so different from pious tradition that it angers some Christians, creating a “new,” intellectually and spiritually challenging Virgin Mary.

Yet in the end, Toibin’s searingly human Mary may be ultimately more accessible than the Mary of porcelain perfection set high on a pedestal.

The Irish writer, who has written about his strong Catholic childhood, imagines Mary 30 years after the crucifixion of her son. She lives as a virtual prisoner of two of Jesus’ disciples, still mourning her son’s death, bitter at what has happened since, and seeking consolation from pagan idols, which make more sense to her than what happened to Jesus.

To the Wonder: A Rumination on Love

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in 'To the Wonder,' a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The last Terrence Malick film I went to see was Tree of Life, in which the critically acclaimed director — and devout Christian — advised audiences to “experience [the film] like a walk in the countryside. You’ll probably be bored or have other things in mind, but perhaps you will be struck, suddenly, by a feeling, by an act, by a unique portrait of nature.” Needless to say, the film was long — extremely beautiful, but a wee bit slow.

So you can imagine the shock I felt when Malick’s latest film, To the Wonder, abruptly ended after almost two hours and I thought to myself, “Wait, it’s already over?”

To the Wonder is certainly different from its immediate predecessor in Malick’s catalogue — there aren’t any dinosaurs in his latest effort. But it does still manage to have both the look and feel of a Malick film (i.e., it intersperses a linear story with lots of fluid, beautiful cinematography shot during “magic hour” with voice overs asking deep questions), albeit one that doesn’t drift off into long montages of the creation of the universe with voiceovers almost lifted from the book of Job.

Homeless Jesus Sculpture Searches for a Home

Photo courtesy Timothy Schmalz
Peter Larisey seated alongside the Jesus sculpture. Photo courtesy Timothy Schmalz

TORONTO — This homeless Jesus can barely find a home.

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz notes the ironies in his latest creation, “Jesus the Homeless,” a bronze sculpture depicting the Christian savior huddled beneath a blanket on an actual-size park bench. Only the feet are visible, and their gaping nail wounds reveal the subject.

“If Jesus was watching the streets today,” Schmalz says from his home in St. Jacobs, Ontario, “I think he would want himself represented as one of the most marginalized. That’s what he said in the Gospel.”

Indeed, as Schmalz notes, Jesus calls on his followers to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and tend to the lame. Possibly referring to himself, Jesus says, in the book of Matthew, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Former ‘Jesus Freak’ Traces the Evolution of Christian rock

Photo courtesy Bob Gersztyn
Bob Gersztyn wrote “Jesus Rocks the World—The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music.” Photo courtesy Bob Gersztyn

Bob Gersztyn owned a fine collection of 300 rock ‘n’ roll albums in 1971, the year he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Among them were some choice 1960s vinyl from Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Mothers of Invention.

But all of a sudden, this was the devil’s music.

“I destroyed some of them with a hammer and took the rest to a used record store,” he recalled with a laugh. “I think I kept 10 classical music albums that I decided were not anti-Christian.”

Gersztyn retained his love of rock ‘n’ roll, but limited his listening to Christian rock, a genre that was just getting going in the era of the hippie-inspired “Jesus freaks” and the hit Broadway musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

He joined a Four Square Gospel Church in Los Angeles, enrolled in Bible college, and became a Pentecostal preacher. He also started emceeing and booking concerts for such Christian artists as Keith Green to 2nd Chapter of Acts.

Sojo Stories: The Last Bison

Brandon Hook/Sojourners
The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Chesapeake, Virginia-based folk band The Last Bison talked with Sojourners about music, creativity, and God before their show in Washington, D.C. a while back. Be sure to listen to their recently released debut album Inheritance and catch them while they're on tour in the U.S.! Their music is definitely worth a listen.

Justin Bieber at the Anne Frank House: Our Addiction to Scandal

Justin Bieber performs on the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza. Photo courtesy Debby Wong/shutterstock.com

On Saturday, the pop culture icon Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam while on a world tour. At the end of his visit to the museum, Bieber wrote a message in the guest book.

His three-sentence message has become Big News. Sunday afternoon I checked my Huffington Post app and discovered this headline on the homepage, “Fury Erupts over Bieber’s Obnoxious Anne Frank Comment.” On Monday morning, the scandal was front page news on Yahoo.com, “Justin Bieber Gets Blasted for Anne Frank Comment.” The New York Times reports that Bieber’s comment “set off a maelstrom of criticism.”

What did Bieber write in the guestbook?

Jackie Robinson’s Faith Missing From '42' Movie

A new film about Jackie Robinson is titled 42 — the number he wore during his historic career. Photo courtesy RNS.

A new film about Jackie Robinson, titled “42″ — the number he wore during his historic career — tells the triumphant story of how the Civil Rights icon integrated professional baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But there’s a mysterious hole at the center of this otherwise worthy film.

The man who chose Robinson for his role, and masterminded the whole affair, was Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford. In their initial meeting, the cigar-chomping Rickey makes it clear that whoever will be the first African-American in major league baseball will be viciously attacked, verbally and physically. So Rickey famously says he’s looking for a man “with guts enough not to fight back.” He needs someone who will resist the temptation to retaliate. Robinson agrees to go along with it.

But where did Rickey get that crazy idea and why did Robinson agree? The film doesn’t tell us, but the answers to these questions lie in the devout Christian faith of both men.

Local Natives and Salvation

Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr
fresh, catchy indie rock laden with eclectic beats. Photo courtesy of Jareed / Flickr

Hipsters. Not gonna lie, that was one of the first words that came to mind when Local Natives took the stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday. I wasn’t sure whether it was guitarist Ryan Hahn’s floral skinny jeans, the luscious mustache of singer/guitarist Taylor Rice, or singer/keyboardist Kelcey Ayer’s flannel — buttoned all the way up, which seems to be the latest amendment to hipster fashion these days— or all of the above.

But then again, almost every young person these days seems to have absorbed some of the styles characteristic of hipsterdom, and Local Natives seem to do so in an unpretentious way. They’re cool. And, more importantly, their music is awesome.

Can a Catholic Hoops Conference Save College Sports?

Photo by Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger
Seton Hall Pirates v. Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Feb. 12. Photo by Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger

March Madness ended with an exhilarating April flourish on Monday as the Louisville Cardinals defeated the Michigan Wolverines and became the new kings of college basketball after a tense 82-76 win in Atlanta.

But the euphoria that always accompanies the popular NCAA tournament may be short-lived this year, as media attention returns to an unprecedented spate of crises that have prompted grave concern about the ethics of college sports.

Chief among the outrages is the ongoing backlash over an abusive basketball coach at Rutgers University, but the sex abuse scandal in the Penn State football program also remains fresh in the public’s mind.

A litany of other alleged acts of malfeasance involving the NCAA, big-time schools, high-profile coaches and student athletes also continues to undermine the credibility of college programs, while concerns are growing about the pernicious influence of huge television contracts, especially for college football games.

Yet amid this tumult, a brand-new basketball conference composed almost entirely of Catholic schools is set to emerge this summer, which some say could point the way toward a new, or perhaps old-fashioned, model of college sports — and maybe even burnish the church’s image along the way.

Change or Die

argus, artcphotos / Shutterstock
Without reinvention, churches risk dying. argus, artcphotos / Shutterstock

Church is being reinvented. So are technology and education. And all for the same reasons.

Facebook just started moving Google’s cheese with its launch of Home. An army of upstarts in Silicon Valley is challenging the hegemony of Microsoft. Nothing is staying the same; disruption is the path to prosperity.

The reason: the marketplace is highly dynamic. New needs emerge. New products stimulate new needs. New entrants want to make a difference right away. Problems and opportunities multiply faster than bureaucratic pillars can respond.

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