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Fresh Vintage

Cody ChesnuTT's Landing on a Hundred is a classic soul album, from the infectious grooves and vocals to recurrent themes of personal and social redemption (comparisons include Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield). Vibration Vineyard

Reclaimed Voices

A team of actors, playwrights, and activists help Ugandan teens, many of them survivors of abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army, courageously share their stories with their community—and, through the documentary After Kony: Staging Hope, with the world. First Run Feature

Exile and Welcome

In Kind of Kin, by Rilla Askew, a rural Oklahoma family finds itself torn from within and without when its patriarch is arrested for harboring undocumented immigrants in his barn. Sometimes heart-rending, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, this novel deftly explores issues of faith, family, immigration, and economic hardship in the heartland. Ecco

Defiant Prayer

The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation, by Stephen R. Haynes, tells an inspiring, lesser-known story of the civil rights era: the 1964-65 campaign by groups of white and black students to challenge segregation in local churches. Oxford

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Tigers By the Tale

IT'S A STORY that promises to make you believe in God.

A boy, shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, repeatedly cheats death and eventually discovers his own self. It's a typical coming-of-age tale, really—except for the whole tiger part.

Life of Pi centers on Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, who grows up grasping to understand God. His open heart and willingness to learn lead him from Hinduism to Christianity to Islam. While stranded at sea along with a few escaped zoo animals as company, he continues to explore the meaning of God as he's thrust into dramatic—and at times inconceivable—situations.

Anyone who has read Yann Martel's best-selling book can understand how near impossible it seems to adapt the larger-than-life story into a film—none more so than the person who did just that, screenwriter David Magee. The largest chunk of Pi's journey is a solitary one, save the aforementioned Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker).

In an interview with Sojourners, Magee said he wrote the scenes without any lines for Pi at all, only inserting them where necessary after the fact.

"We didn't want to have some strange conversations with the tiger that he would never have," Magee said.

To work out other ways to move along the story, the filmmakers met with Steven Callahan, an actual survivor of a shipwreck who spent 76 days at sea.

"While he was on his journey, [he] wrote in the margins of a little notebook that he had with a pencil in the tiniest lettering he could, and he tried to keep track of his thoughts and his observations in order to keep himself from going insane," Magee said.

Magee did the same thing in the film and used Pi's journal entries, jotted in the margins of his survival manual, to delve into the character's inner dialogue. Through the written word and the slow dissolving of his one pencil, the days and nights pass as Pi becomes ever more weary.

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Dresden's Shrove Tuesday

Deep with one savior’s death, how many more?
In observance of which, the Dresden burghers
as usual held Shrove Tuesday circuses
around Our Lady’s Church, the Frauenkirche,
eating pancakes before their fast for Easter.

At midnight, Allies drew ash from their firestorm
on a hundred-thousand heads. Remember,
the Good War’s firesticks on Dresden’s timbers
in revenge for Coventry, where in embers
Ash Wednesday passion plays were once performed,

the old guilds raising monstrance of the Host
from their painted wagons. Remember Churchill
letting Germans bomb Coventry’s Cathedral
to protect the broken code, letting death fall
on leafy English streets like flash-bombed ghosts

in Dresden, Tokyo. Remember, we must
beg forgiveness like the medieval poor
for sin. How many miracles of war
must we work, burning flesh to spirit, before
remembering we are dust returned to dust.

Judith Werner lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Image: Destroyed Coventry Cathedral, Lance Bellers / Shutterstock.com

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Finding God in Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell?

Perry Ferrel singing with Jane's Addiction in 2012. Mat Hayward / Shutterstock.c
Perry Ferrel singing with Jane's Addiction in 2012. Mat Hayward / Shutterstock.com

I know this sounds totally bizarre, but I had a moment of clarity about the value of human life in, of all places, a kid-themed pizza joint yesterday. No, they don’t exploit their workers (that I know of, short of submitting them to overstimulated kids all day). It took a few steps for me to get there, so bear with me.

Yesterday, my daughter, Zoe, turned four years old. It’s a crappy time of year to have a birthday party, since lots of people are out of town, and those who are around are more or less partied out from the holidays. On top of that, we just moved here a few months ago and hardly know anyone. So to try and make up for all of that, we let her pick anywhere she wanted to go for dinner.

Not surprisingly, she picked John’s Incredible Pizza Company, which is like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. Not high on my list of choices, but hey, it wasn’t my birthday. Zoe’s grandparents are in town and they invited a couple other family members who live nearby to join us. One of Amy’s distant cousins brought along her husband or boyfriend (still not sure which), and I remarked after the dinner to amy that he bore a striking resemblance to the alt-rock front man Perry Ferrell, of Jane’s Addiction fame.

“What ever happened to Perry?” Amy asked. Short of founding the Lollapalooza Festival and hitting every Coachella festival ever held, I had nothing. So I Googled him.

Homebrewed CultureCast with 'The Shack' author, Wm. Paul Young

Bestselling 'The Shack'

This week’s episode was recorded in the youth group room at First Christian Church in downtown Portland, Ore. To start things off, Jordan talks about being the Marv Marinovich of comedy by relentlessly pushing his daughter to be funnier while Christian embraces the black magic that is naturopathic medicine.

This week’s guest is Wm. Paul Young, author of the wildly popular novel The Shack, which has sold 18 million copies to date. Paul talks about the creative process, about trusting God rather than trying to please, and the development of his latest book, Crossroads. Basically, it’s just an interesting conversation with a fascinating person who’s also incredibly gracious and humble.

Unexpected Grace in Les Miz

Movie poster for "Les Misérables" from Universal Studios, Christmas, 2012
Movie poster for "Les Misérables" from Universal Studios, Christmas, 2012

For many centuries Christmas Day worshippers have been hearing these words as their New Testament reading: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). Grace, everyone used to know, is foundational to the Christian Gospel.

But this Christmas I’m noticing the surprising version of grace in Les Miserables, already seen by 60 million people as a musical and now as a film. Victor Hugo’s novel may be seen as a story of grace transforming in the life of the common man Jean Valjean and grace rejected in the life of the rigid functionary Javert.

As the story begins, Jean Valjean is being released from 19 winters of imprisonment for having stolen some bread to save his sister’s son from starving. But in the eyes of Javert, Valjean will always be a thief, which is his nature, because he has not learned the meaning of the law. Crushed under this ideological overlay, Valjean sees himself as a slave of the law — in a way remarkably similar to that of St. Paul, who makes grace and law antithetical. The chorus confirms it: “Look down, you will always be a slave.”

In his first job after prison, Valjean is deliberately underpaid. When he objects, the boss says: “Why should you get the same as honest men like me?” (Jesus once told a parable about laborers in a vineyard to open people’s eyes to grace.) Valjean concludes that society has closed every door to him. When he is refused lodging, the innkeeper says: “We’re law-abiding people here. Thanks be to God.” The conservative identification with the law is commonly made in alliance with God, while Victor Hugo seems to understand that the Christian vision identifies grace, not law, with God.

Climbing Into Their Skin

© Mark Herreid / Shutterstock
Photo: Silhouette of teen shooting a basketball, © Mark Herreid / Shutterstock.com

In The Last Shot, Frey has written a compassionate book. It is truly a compass that guides us into the sneakers and the hearts of children growing up in the housing projects of Coney Island, New York — inner-city kids defying the law of nature by growing in a tough place like flowers growing through concrete.

It is truly passionate about basketball and life, basketball as it is loved by children, coaches, and communities ... life as it is felt through the hearts of people who know human beings are human beings and not commodities.

On Scripture: The Hell of Parenting — A Study of 1 Samuel

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Orphan Beaudin Lovinsky, 4-years-old, is placed into the Children's Foundation of Haiti orphanage. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Few narratives in the Hebrew Bible are more foreign to us than this week’s lection. We do not give away our children. In a society determined by socio-economic forces utterly beyond the control of individual citizens (e.g., globalization), we do our best to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of change. But what happens when we lose our footing?

Contemporary life changes too fast for habits and routines to have any chance to settle into a pattern. Western individuals must navigate their way through the fears and anxieties that are endemic to such an existence. Such is the pace of change, that effective life-strategies today may be obsolete tomorrow. We will do everything in our power to hold back the floods that threaten to wash away that which we hold dear — especially our children.

What was it like for parents in the Bible? Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was beset by another set of insecurities than those faced by contemporary Westerners. In the socio-economic situation of twelfth-century B.C.E., an Israelite woman’s worth was held in direct proportion to her fertility. Hannah was barren and thus her spirit was troubled to the point that she refused to eat, weeping instead on account of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:16 NRSV). In desperation, she made a vow before the LORD of hosts that if God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to the LORD. The LORD heard Hannah’s prayer and blessed her with Samuel, whom she turned over to Eli the priest, according to her promise.

First Look — 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

Dave M. Benett/WireImage/ Getty Images
Cast attend the Royal Film Performance of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' on Dec. 12.Dave M. Benett/WireImage

This will be a night to remember! 

On Monday, I had the opportunity of attending an advance screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a good childhood friend of mine. I sat in my favorite movie-watching seat (a few rows back and dead center), munching on free popcorn and drinks provided by a fellow moviegoer who wanted nothing more than to ensure that his entire row in the theater was happy and well-fed (not too unlike a Hobbit, really).

Just before the lights dimmed, I remember thinking how perfect the whole moment was. However, as exciting and as wonderful as those final moments of anticipation were, I also couldn’t help but wonder if I might be setting my expectations too high for the film that was about to come.

It turns out I needn’t have worried.

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