Abby Olcese 4-07-2017

Colossal isn’t just a movie about a woman overcoming her bad habits. It’s about a woman discovering her own power and agency, and the refusal of the men in her life to accept that agency.

NEARLY 46 YEARS after his death, Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is never very far from the public eye. He’s already immortal as the originator of the world-famous Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”). And just last fall, an article in Harper’s took up the eternal question: “Where is our Reinhold Niebuhr?” President Obama once called him his favorite philosopher, and Niebuhr is regularly “proof-texted” by polemicists across the political spectrum, especially on questions of war and peace.

In April, PBS will air a documentary, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, directed by Martin Doblmeier. It will give an even broader public the chance to reflect on Niebuhr’s significance, in the company of such notables as Cornel West, Stanley Hauerwas, President Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

I was eager to see the film. I’ve always felt that Reinhold Niebuhr was somewhere in my family tree. As a student at a Baptist-related college in the 1970s, I got heavy doses of his book Moral Man and Immoral Society. Later, I had the opportunity to interview Myles Horton, founder of the mother church of Southern radicalism, the Highlander Center, and learned that Horton had studied with Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary. In fact, Niebuhr helped fund Highlander. And about a dozen years after that, I gave one of our sons the middle name Myles, in honor of Horton. So how many degrees of separation is that?

WRITER AND ACTIVIST Chuck Collins, the great-grandson of meatpacker Oscar Mayer, gave up his inheritance when he was 26 and has spent the subsequent decades working to address economic inequality and environmental issues. Via email with Sojourners senior associate editor Julie Polter, he discussed his newest book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good (Chelsea Green)—and why organizing and building community across economic lines is good for everyone.

Sojourners: What is your main message in this book?

Chuck Collins: I want to invite wealthy and affluent people to “come home”—to return from wandering in the desert of wealth and privilege, the disconnection from community and place. It means putting a personal stake in reversing the deepening ruts of extreme wealth inequality and the ecological crisis. If we read the signs of the times, we understand this is both in our selfish interest as well as strengthening the common good. These inequalities and ecological challenges are undermining the quality of life for everyone, including wealthy people. There is no wealth on a degraded planet.

By reconnecting with people and places, we come out of exile. Racial and economic advantage is a “disconnection drug”—distancing us from both the suffering and the joy of being a human.

Many of the ultra-wealthy are “placeless” and “stateless”—literally holding multiple passports with money globalized in offshore financial centers around the world. So “coming home” means bringing the wealth home too—taking it out of the offshore tax havens, out of the global financial casino (“going off the Wall Street grid,” as one of the people I interview in Born on Third Base says), and out of the fossil fuel industry.

Abby Olcese 10-03-2016

During Queen of Katwe’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Nair, who lives in Uganda, quoted the motto of the Maisha Film Lab, a filmmaking program she founded in east Africa: “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will.”

The film’s admirable adherence to that ethic transcends whatever issues of length or performance it may have. Queen of Katwe is a movie committed to the real people whose story it tells, showing their struggles, strength, love and faith. No white savior required.

Abby Olcese 8-05-2016

Image via Facebook.

But the film’s most problematic character is also one of its biggest: Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie gives a memorable, lively performance in the role, and shows she can take care of herself. But the character has a highly abusive, dependent relationship with Leto’s Joker, and David Ayer makes the big mistake of presenting it as a selling point of the film

Abby Olcese 5-05-2016

Image via Facebook/Captain America: Civil War

As any Marvel’s Avengers appreciator can tell you, a staple focus of each story is on team dynamics. What does it take for a group of people with different agendas and backgrounds to effectively work together for good? How does a team find common ground, and account for each others’ strengths and weaknesses?

As anyone who’s lived in Christian community (or worked in social justice) knows, these ideas come up as much in everyday life as they do when taking down a supervillain. But what Marvel hasn’t looked at is the other side of intentional community — what happens when a team can’t work.

Until now.

Abby Olcese 4-06-2016

Screenshot of 'Midnight Special' trailer/YouTube

Taken purely as entertainment, Jeff Nichols’ film Midnight Special is a smart, tersely constructed sci-fi adventure in the vein of classics such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That it aspires to those heights alone (and it comes very close) makes it worth seeing. But what makes Midnight Special great is that it’s also a film about belief, or the desire to believe — one that advocates for sacrificial love over fear and control, and is content with asking more questions than it answers.

Abby Olcese 3-17-2016

Image via /

The last days of Weiner’s mayoral campaign devolve into farce, with anxious aides running around and the candidate’s interactions with voters getting more and more contentious. While watching the ship go down is entertaining, what makes the story so fascinating is the boldfaced dishonesty at its core. Weiner the man misses what Weiner the film understands about his predicament: that being made a fool by trusting in the wrong person is an awfully hard thing to forgive.

Patrick Walls 3-02-2016

Image via Gungor Music.

"I'd say this album touches more on political issues. People are taking sides and drawing lines, tension is growing in all of the areas you mentioned and music has a unique way of speaking to those issues.

It can be natural to want to pull the reigns back or go back to what we know when things get tense, but we must keep moving forward; hold on to wisdom from our roots but know there is wisdom ahead as well."

Juliet Vedral 2-09-2016

Image via /

Seeing Bartholomew and Mary’s trust in the risen Christ made me want to raise my hands and trust him with all of my hopes. If Christ could master death, what limits could there be to what he could do with them?

Seeing the gracious way in which Jesus shows Thomas his wounds, provides fish for his followers, and restores Peter made me remember all the ways he’s lovingly cared for me. He’s not just a vague myth or a good idea — he’s alive.

Image via UN Women/Flickr

Steinem says that from traveling so much, she had an opportunity to hear from so many different groups of people — proving that, “Hate generalizes, love specifies.’” And that’s one of the theories of social change, right? Hearing personal stories brings a better sense of understanding that can get more people on board and connected.

Abby Olcese 11-18-2015
The 33

Still from the movie 'The 33' / via The 33 Movie on Facebook

The 33, a dramatization of the 2010 San Jose mine collapse in Chile, has all the markings of a Hollywood tentpole film. Heartfelt, incredible true story: check. Touching human drama: check. Stirring score: check (it’s one of the last created by composer James Horner before his death in June, giving it extra poignancy). There are more lines about “not giving up” than there are tears in an Oscar acceptance speech. The 33 fits the end-of-year crowd-pleaser profile in every way.

The 33 tells the famous story of the collapse of the gold mine in Chile’s Atacama desert from three different perspectives. 

Abby Olcese 8-07-2015

Image via 'The Look of Silence' trailer/YouTube

On a macro level, however, The Look of Silence is equally important in its examinations of evil, guilt, consequence, and forgiveness. It’s a horrifying document of the cruelty humans are capable of, and the ways we try to justify our sins, especially those that are very clearly unjustified. It’s also an incredible example of the courage and grace to seek reconciliation — which, through Adi’s example, Oppenheimer shows we’re equally capable of. The Look of Silence is required viewing, equal parts frightening and beautiful, much like the landscape it portrays.

Abby Olcese 7-20-2015
Screenshot via 'Ant-Man' trailer/YouTube

Screenshot via 'Ant-Man' trailer/YouTube

In many ways, Ant-Man — Marvel’s latest addition to its cinematic superhero pantheon — feels like a response to criticisms leveled at the studio lately. Namely: the films’ lack of any female superheroes; and their penchant for rampant destruction with little regard for the consequences. Ant-Man handles the latter with a gonzo sense of creativity and clever humor. Marvel’s response to female representation issues, however, doesn’t quite stick the landing. 

Hope is an excellent fighter and extremely smart. With her knowledge of her father Hank’s work and her role within Pym Industries, she’s the natural choice to lead the mission for which Scott Lang is recruited. But she gets stuck on the sidelines. While the film addresses this through Hank’s concern for her well-being, as well as his experience losing Hope’s mother Janet in action — a choice that certainly makes sense for Hank’s character — Ant-Man chooses to let the matter lie there, instead of further addressing it. A post-credits scene shows Hope getting her own costume, though as of yet, she won’t be getting her own film.

Gareth Higgins 7-13-2015

The purpose of art is to help us live better. 

The Editors 4-01-2015

Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael G. Long / The Mask You Live In by Representation Project / Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace by Patricia Raybon / Leave Some Things Behind by the Steel Wheels 

Jenna Barnett 11-06-2014

Radical Spirituality: Repentance, Resistance, Revoluton by Jason Storbakken / Dorothy Day for Armchair Theologians by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty / Rich Hill directed and produced by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo  / Black Bear by Andrew Belle 


Julie Polter 10-07-2014

Paternal Insights edited by Anderson Campbell / Sing Freedom by Robert F. Darden / In Between by / More than Metaphor edited by Shelia E. McGinn, Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, and Ahida Calderón Pilarski. 



Jose Humphreys 10-07-2014

Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau.

Julienne Gage 10-07-2014

Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child, by Linda Lawrence Hunt. Westminster John Knox Press.