More Christian Than Celebrity

Red carpet illustration, Fulop Zsolt / Shutterstock.com

Red carpet illustration, Fulop Zsolt / Shutterstock.com

The biggest event of Hollywood industry has just wound down. The rich and glamorous have walked down the red carpet in their designer gowns, the famous people took home trophies, and the Oscars are over for another year.

It is a lot of fun to “ooh” and “aah” over celebrities. I love to dole out opinions on red carpet fashion choices and chuckle at Twitter making fun of Matthew McConaughey’s facial hair. But overall, I think celebrity culture is quite unhealthy. Too much power and fame seems to corrupt even the best of us, and being in the spotlight for too long takes its toll on the human psyche. We should be fostering meaningful relationships with one another instead of developing a system that makes it possible for the celebrity to crave constant attention and for the crowd to follow blindly in an unthoughtful, mob-like fashion.

But because the system is already in place, this mechanism within culture to put people on pedestals for us to blindly adore — when Christians begin to share art and ideas publicly, we have seamlessly co-opted the same model to create a niche Christian celebrity culture.

The Oscar Scandal: Sean Penn, Alejandro Iñárritu, and Responding to Racism

Oscar statue karenfoleyphotography / Shutterstock.com

Oscar statue karenfoleyphotography / Shutterstock.com

“Sean Penn’s ‘Green Card’ comment may have ruined the entire Oscars.”

That was the headline from the Huffington Post. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I’m always curious about pop-culture scandals. What could Sean Penn have said that was so egregious that it threatened to ruin “the entire Oscars?”

Penn delivered the award for Best Picture, which went to Birdman. After Penn opened the card, he took an awkward moment to gather his thoughts about how he would introduce the winner, whose director happened to be his long-time friend Alejandro Iñárritu.

That’s when Penn delivered the scandalous introduction, “And the Oscar goes to … Who gave this son of a bitch his green card? Birdman.”

‘Selma:' We Are, Because They Were

Actor David Oyelowo and Director Ava DuVernay on the set of ‘Selma.’ Photo court

Actor David Oyelowo and Director Ava DuVernay on the set of ‘Selma.’ Photo courtesy Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners.

In the first moments of SelmaI feel butterflies rise in my stomach as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) practices his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech while trying to tie his ascot. Butterflies rumble in my soul. I am almost fearful as we step into the world of Selma, because I am a student of the Civil Rights era. The movement’s lessons have shaped my life. I feel like I am about to meet my heroes.

So, King fiddles with his ascot in Oslo, Norway, and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) comes close to comfort him, and little girls descend into the bowels of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and butterflies rise and my soul sits at attention. I know what is coming: hell … and glory.

The film still haunts me. Every performance is nuanced, textured, and humanizing. Director Ava DuVernay’s technique is breathtaking. Her eye translates words into feelings into images — moving images that never leave you. Brutality and reverence occupy single frames. At once, the audience is horrified and awe-struck. I have no doubt Selma should win Oscars.

It is an amazing film, but it doesn’t haunt me because of its excellence. As I sat in the dark watching the movement unfold before my eyes, it was not the past that haunted me. It was the present.

Father Abraham and the Jews

RNS photo courtesy David James/Disney-DreamWorks II.

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln in the film ‘Lincoln’. RNS photo courtesy David James/Disney-DreamWorks II.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln will probably nab a few of its 12 nominated Academy Awards when the Oscars are handed out on Sunday — a sign that Americans never have and probably never will tire of our 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln’s face is etched in stone on Mount Rushmore and his brooding statue sits enshrined in a Greek-style temple in Washington. His succinct Gettysburg Address (about 270 words) took all of about two minutes to deliver, yet remains this nation’s most famous speech 150 years later. His assassination lifted him to mythic status — a martyr who earned his place in our pantheon of national heroes.

We just marked the 150th anniversary of his Emancipation Proclamation, but that necessary action wasn’t enough. Spielberg’s film revives Lincoln’s second act, in 1865, to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery through a divided Congress. It wasn’t the only injustice Lincoln worked to correct.

In his recent book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, Brandeis University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna recounts an important but little-known event in 1863 in Lincoln’s quest for full civil, religious, and human rights for all Americans — this time, for American Jews.

Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees, Part 3

Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we've been taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

In today's final installment, we turn our attention to Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: March 7, 2012

With Super Tuesday out of the way, take a look at some of McSweeny's more eccentirc exit poll findings. Make your favorite YouTube videos mirror the aesthitic of the Oscar-winning film, The Artist. See some amazingly small apartments and ask yourself, 'How much space do you really need in your house?' And take a listen to some new music from Sufjan Stevens/ Rosie Thomas, Jeff Tweedy's teenage son Spencer, and an 8-bit rendition of The Smiths (aka Super Morrissey Bros). Read today's "Links of Awesomeness" for these links and many others...

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: Monday, Nov. 21, 2011


Awesome tweet of the day: The father of liberal theology, Fred Schleiermacher, was born today in 1768. “Born” and “today” are just metaphors, of course. (via @shipofools) Plus interfaith bridge building, an extensive interview from U2, Jana Riess is Flunking Sainthood, Pakistanian cell phone censorship, Oscar-worthy documentaries, urban farming, Malawi introduces an anti-farting law (seriously, see above) and more.